Book Review + Quiz: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly + Who Would You Be in a Magic Prohibition Era?

Joan never wanted her magic, especially not after she saw how dangerous it was, but when a man shows up offering to let her compete against 14 other sorcerers for the chance to make the money she and her family so desperately need, she can't turn that down. Meanwhile, Alex, a young, corrupt cop, gets blackmailed into going undercover in an attempt to take down the gangs and stop all their illegal drug and sorcerer shine activity. The two are drawn to each other, but they're on opposite sides of the sorcery prohibition, and the deeper both get pulled into the underworld, the more dangerous things get.

Book Review: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly | books, reading, book covers, book reviews, fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy
Title: A Criminal Magic
Pages: 432
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon


This was one of my most anticipated books of the year. You see, I’ve always been interested in the Prohibition Era, and I love urban fantasy, so…

Prohibition Era + Magic/Urban Fantasy = Very Happy Kristen

And I was not disappointed by that combination! So many aspects of this book blew me away.

First of all, the writing did an amazing job of capturing the alternate 1920s vibe.

There was also the world building, which added even more to the amazing 20s feel. It had all the right details and in the perfect amount—everything from the gangsters to the settings to backstories about the characters/society/gangs to the way the magic worked to the plot itself.

Then there were these specific things that I just loved and found really fascinating. For a while, Alex’s POV was my favorite because the gangster side of things was so intriguing. I guess I read about magic a lot, but I never read about gangsters. And every single little thing about the gangsters, the two different gangs, the history, the bosses and underbosses, the drugs, the deals being made, etc. was so detailed and well thought-out without being confusing once you got all the information.

But then I also started to enjoy Joan’s POV just as much because everything about the Red Den where she worked was just as incredible. The whole performance—*MILD SPOILER ALERT* starting with the sorcerers on their individual stages while the patrons sipped cocktails, then the intermission during which they flirted and interacted one-on-one with audience members, then the big, immersive finale (not to mention all the different finales they created), then making the shine on stage *END SPOILER ALERT*—was so creative. Even the way they had the schedule for practice… it was that attention to detail that just made everything so realistic and made me feel like I was there, surrounded by the story.

Yet another amazing, realistic thing was the characterization. They weren’t my favorite characters ever, but damn if they weren’t ridiculously well-written. The two main characters grew and developed in a really natural way, even if it wasn’t always for the better.

And for anyone wondering about the romance, it was there, but it wasn’t mushy, and it never overpowered the story.

Last but not least, there was a great build up of tension throughout the entire book as things got worse and more complicated and more tangled and more dangerous. The book was a little slow-paced at times, but that tension kept me hooked. I just kept waiting for everything to come crashing down and explode. I didn’t get quite the massive explosion I wanted since things kind of crashed down in parts instead of all at once, but there was still a good resolution to all the anticipation.

As for the ending, my immediate, subjective reaction was that I didn’t like it. But now that I’ve had some time to think, I realize that it was the only right way for the story to end.

So overall, this book had a unique magic-filled Prohibition Era world, attention to detail that really made things come alive, and incredibly realistic characterization. Rarely have I come across writing and storytelling this intricate and superbly well done!


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Have you read A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly?
What results did you get on the quiz (or which would you rather be): gangster, sorcerer, cop, or show patron?


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16 thoughts on “Book Review + Quiz: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly + Who Would You Be in a Magic Prohibition Era?

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  1. Peyton @A Bookish Mess

    Magic! I love books about magic! Throw in some gangsters and you have a match made in heaven! The competition aspects adds a whole new element to things. This kind of novel wouldn’t normally speak volumes to me, but from your review I am going to give this one a try! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Right?! I want more magic and gangsters! And the competition and performance aspects were both interesting. If you do give it a try, you’ll have to let me know if you like it πŸ™‚

  2. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Every time I hear something new about this book I want to buy it but it’s so expensive over here I just can’t justify it. It does sound like a fantastic read, though. Prohibition era book with magic, what more could I want to read? I will be buying this, but it’s one I’ll wait for and treat myself to in a couple of months I think. Your review makes it sound fantastic, though. I’m even more excited to get reading it.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I feel you about the expensive books. There are some that I really want but just can’t afford, but luckily I got this ebook while it was on sale. It is a great read though! At least to me it was. Thank you, I’m glad you like my review! You’ll have to let me know if you ever do treat yourself to it πŸ™‚

  3. Greg

    I’ve read stuff set in the 30’s and 40’s but I don’t think I’ve read anything about Prohibition- sounds fun. Go gangsters lol. And I like the sound of the Dens atmosphere. That’s a nice touch- underground clubs run by gangsters. It looks like from the blurb too that they’re at cross purposes to each other for at least part of the story. I can see why this one be fun.

    I got performer on the quiz- guess I’m headed to the club ha ha.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Funny, I’ve read this book about the Prohibition Era, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about the 30s or 40s πŸ˜› But yes! I want more books about gangsters now lol. And the Red Den was so creative. And yes, the two MCs, one is an undercover cop trying to take down the gangs and stop the sorcerer’s shine, and the other is a sorcerer working for a gangster. Tension!

      We can be performers together since that’s also what I got! Yes I took my own quiz lol.

  4. Christy LoveOfBooks

    Ooo I agree, the era + UF = awesome! And that’s what I like to hear, even if you didn’t like the characters, it’s obvious that they are well written. This sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I didn’t know other people would also be excited about the Prohibition Era and magic combo! It makes me happy that it’s not just me πŸ˜› And yes, I don’t need to love a character to appreciate how realistic and well-written they are. And, to be fair, I didn’t dislike these characters, I was rooting for them, they just weren’t, like, in my top ten, that kind of thing. Anyway, the book is a lot of fun πŸ™‚

  5. Barb(boxermommyreads)

    This is in my top 3 favorite books this year. I kind of wish it was a series because I loved it so much, but it almost works better as a stand-alone. I am so glad when I see others loving it as much as I did! Now, off to take your quiz.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay, I’m glad someone else loved it too! Bonding over a shared book love is always great πŸ˜› I’m a series girl, so I would definitely have enjoyed it if it were a series. However, it worked really well as a standalone πŸ™‚ Did you take the quiz? It’s been kind of glitchy and not always showing up :-/

  6. Lola

    Oh this one sounds good! With all the attention to detail and how the world and setting comes alive! And that’s good to hear the characters were well written and realistic. I always like seeing romance in books, but sometimes it works just as well or even better when it’s a side plot. I did the quiz and got gangster. That’s fun you made a quiz :). Great review Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s right, you like world building πŸ™‚ And yes, the characters were so realistic! I’ve also come to like books better when the romance is a side plot rather than the main focus.

      Yeeeeaaah Lola the gangster! I got sorcerer, so I guess I’d be working for you πŸ˜› Thanks, I’m glad you like my quiz, it was harder to come up with questions than I thought it would be, haha.

  7. Annika @ Hiding Books

    The characterisation and world-building sound so good and I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW because you make it sound amazing! There’s something oddly attractive about the prohibition era. And gangsters! Awesomeness.
    Ahh and a cool quiz! Performing sorcerer here! Now I *must* read this.
    Great review, Kristen! You’ve made me so excited for this one!

    1. Kristen Burns

      It was so good! You do need this right now! Lol. I think I kind of romanticize the whole gangster/Prohibition thing in my head. I blame it on this one dinner show I went to as a kid because it was set in the Prohibition Era but it was funny and awesome and the actors were hot πŸ˜‰ But seriously, the gangsters in the book were terrible people but still so fun to read about.

      Yay, we can perform together! πŸ˜› Thanks, you’ll have to let me know if you do ever read it!

  8. verushka

    OMG, I recced this one in one of my weekly rec posts! IT sounded amazing and I love that it held up to the promise in the blurb!! Great review!