Warbound is the third volume of Larry Correia’s GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES, an alternate history which takes place during the early 19th century. This review will contain spoilers for previous volumes. You’ll definitely want to read those before picking up Warbound.
The stakes are higher than ever in Warbound. When Jake Sullivan was let out of jail to help his country, he never dreamed he’d be fighting an evil being from another dimension that plans to suck the power out of magic-wielding humans so it can use their power for its own. Roosevelt’s administration is unwittingly (perhaps) helping this “Pathfinder” by demanding that all Actives get registered and wear a special badge. They’re even building special towns for Actives to live in and are starting to round them all up. Jake realizes that this will only help Pathfinder when he’s ready to harvest all the power.
Francis, an airship tycoon who’s also an Active, is frustrated as he tries to enlighten congress. His girlfriend Faye, whose Spellbound powers are growing, is worried that the power will taint her. Feeling more alone than ever, and knowing that the Council is trying to assassinate her, she goes on a quest to zombie-infested Berlin to get some answers. Meanwhile, Toru, the disgraced Japanese Iron Guard who was exiled to America, feels certain that the Chairman of his beloved Imperium is now the Pathfinder’s pawn. If so, the Chairman has fooled all of Toru’s brothers in the Iron Guard and Toru wants them to know the truth. He’s looking for redemption and hopes to win back his honor. He’s also starting to question his country’s moral philosophies.
Toru, Jake and their international group of magical friends (we met most of these fascinating folks in Hard Magic and Spellbound) have to make some unsavory alliances if they want to defeat the Chairman and Pathfinder. They meet some helpful Chinese mobsters in occupied China, but the scariest ally is a psychopathic psychologist who Jake retrieves from solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. It will take all of these people’s combined efforts and skills to win this war for humanity. Along the way, they’ll fight Samurai and ninjas, find a mechanical armored body suit, cause a riot, explore underground tunnels, blow up dirigibles, control animals, meet Rasputin, create origami art, and learn about the metaphysics of the magic. As usual there is some humor, some romance, some clever alternate history (I love the bastardized quotes at the beginning of each chapter), and several well-choreographed brutal fight scenes. There is also major loss and one of my favorite characters dies. If there are any future volumes in the GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES, I’ll miss that character.
After enjoying seven of his novels, I’m no longer surprised that Larry Correia always entertains me. His outspoken libertarian political views don’t bother me (I lean that way, too), but he’s a rabid gun nut, and that’s an issue that I don’t feel quite so libertarian about. There’s some gun porn in Warbound but it’s minimal and tasteful. Jake Sullivan occasionally lets us know that he’s politically conservative:
“FDR can go to hell. I’m a man. Not a type, not a number, and sure as hell not something that can be summed up as a logo to wear on my sleeve. A man. And I ain’t registering nothing.”
Larry Correia’s political views inspire Jake Sullivan’s characterization, but Jake’s libertarianism fits well in a story set during the time of the New Deal and it never interferes with the exciting plot. (It’s far less intrusive than Heinlein’s pulpitting.)
Warbound has been nominated for a Hugo award. I’m not interested in commenting on this year’s Hugo kerfuffle except to say that I agree with John Scalzi when he says let’s put politics aside, read all the books, and judge them based on quality. And to those who refuse to read this Hugo-nominated book, all I can say is that you’re missing out on a lot of fun. This story may not have the intellectual heft that I’d prefer from an award-winning book, but it’s wildly popular and it’s certainly not dumb. It’s clever, well-written, and immensely entertaining.
Now, let me talk about my favorite part of Warbound: the audiobook! This series has one of the best (maybe the very best) audio performances I’ve ever heard, and I’ve listened to close to 1,000 audiobooks. Actor Bronson Pinchot, the narrator, is an audio genius. Genius, I tell you! This story has a large diverse cast of characters that differs in sex, age, race, region, culture, education level, and every other way you can think of. Pinchot handles them all with ease, giving each character their own voice, rhythm and tone. I have never heard this done so well. Even if the story wasn’t entertaining in itself, Pinchot’s narration of Warbound could keep anyone riveted, which is why it’s been nominated for a prestigious Audie award. Have a listen!
A note about my rating of Warbound: I struggled with how to rate Warbound. If I was rating the audiobook, it’d get 5 stars. But, realizing that most of our audience doesn’t listen to audiobooks, I tend to rate based on if I’d read it in print. In this case, though, it’s really hard for me to separate the audio out of it because it was such a huge part of my enjoyment of the book. I may be being a bit stingy to only give Warbound 4 stars because I got more than 4 stars worth of enjoyment out of it.