Hour of Need is the concluding book in Michael Pryor’s LAWS OF MAGIC series and it brings a good series to a fitting and satisfying close. I won’t bother recapping the general premise as you’ll want to have read the prior (or should that be Pryor?) books first; you can check out the setting, etc., in my earlier reviews. Suffice to say the series is set in an alternate Edwardian time period that has been moving toward and then finally arriving at their version of World War I involving both technology and magic.
All the major characters return for Hour of Need: Aubrey, whom I’ve described as a mix of Sherlock Holmes, Tom Swift, and Hermione Granger; his best friend George, reliably strong and warm-hearted; Caroline, his crack shot, martial artist maybe-finally-girlfriend-this-book; and Sophie, coming into her own magically in this book as well as moving more seriously into her relationship with George. As one might expect in the conclusion, the villain — Dr. Tremaine — is here as well, and yes, he and Aubrey do have a final confrontation.
Hour of Need is darker than the earlier books in the sense that while the first few were heading into the war and the last one has the group fighting at the fringes, here we see the actual front and it has all the horror of the non-alternate-universe WWI. The trenches, wire fencing, and shell-shocked soldiers are all here, raising the stakes and providing strong, affecting imagery.
The grim nature and darker imagery in the middle section strengthen the book, as does the continued development of the relationship among the characters and the movement toward an awareness of the horror of war no matter which side one is on (that isn’t to say Pryor offers up any moral relativism here; he simply doesn’t shy away from the sometimes monstrous things being done).
Hour of Need’s flaws will be familiar to readers of the series. Though problems are presented as difficult, it still feels that things come a bit too easily or quickly to Aubrey and that’s true as well for Sophia, whose magic skills are moving perhaps a bit too fast — though Pryor still does an excellent job in the presentation of the magic itself as a kind of science in its intellectual rigor. Tremaine remains a bit too abstract, the confrontation is a bit perfunctory, and this book, like others in the series, could have lost 50-75 pages or so.
But overall, as mentioned, Hour of Need is a fitting and satisfactory conclusion. I’ve called the series “charmingly old-fashioned” and it remains so to the end. Too old-fashioned for some, I’ve no doubt, but personally I found this old-fashioned quality to be one of the series’ greatest strengths and a bit of a relief amidst all the “gritty” or dystopic YA fiction. Having read LAWS OF MAGIC start to finish, I can happily recommend it.
The Laws of Magic — (2006-2011) Young adult. Publisher: Best friends Aubrey and George begin their magical high jinks in this first book of the Laws of Magic series. At a weekend shooting party at Prince Albert’s country estate, Aubrey and George find themselves in a hotbed of intrigue and politics. Together they discover a golem, a magical creature built to perform one task — to kill Prince Albert. Aubrey and George are hailed as heroes for foiling the attempt on the prince’s life — but who sent the golem, and why? Aubrey is far too curious to let the authorities handle this one, and he and George start an investigation of their own to get to the bottom of the royal assassination attempt.