Review: Gun Magus by N.R. LaPoint
NR LaPoint’s latest is a bonkers but loving send-up to the isekai genre that even an anti-weeb can love.
NR LaPoint had notoriety thrust upon him with his YA masterpiece that was never intended as YA, Chalk. He followed that up with last year’s sequel Dusklight. Now, with Gun Magus, LaPoint pivots away from the Mistcreek family entirely to offer a new story that jolts classic isekai tropes with a high-voltage current of fast-paced, thoroughly Western action.
The book starts off at a hundred miles an hour with our protagonist Kenneth Jericho in the middle of rescuing a ten-year old girl whose kidnapping he just happened to have witnessed driving home from losing his job. He’s good with a gun (thank you, Concealed Carry), but as stupid as he is fearless, as this early exchange perfectly illustrates:
Kneeling, he pushed his car keys into the girl’s hands.
“Run! Get to my car. It’s the cool red one. Get in, start it up,
then hop over to the passenger side and get your head down. If I
don’t get there in forty seconds, get back in the driver’s seat and go.
You know how to drive, right?”
The girl shook her head, then ran off.
“Well, alright then.”
By page 13 I’d already known I was in for a good time; I immediately felt similar vibes to the fantastic web short Kung Fury, and knew that if anyone could pull off a JRPG in the stylings of a Zucker brothers screenplay, LaPoint could, and of course the mad lad didn’t let me down.
After managing to get the girl to safety, Jericho finds himself chased down by some very angry traffickers who are just about to gun him down when the world evaporates in a blinding flash of white light; he awakens inside a summoning circle with some hooded figure peering down at him, disappointed because Jericho isn’t the lunch he was trying to order. Before either can do much explaining, evil fish men break in and attack, pulling the wheel blocks away from our story and sending it flying proper.
Jericho soon realizes that his guns are firing far more ammo than they normally should, something his wizard companion tells him is due to his status as a Gun Magus in this new fantastical world he now finds himself in. Said wizard by the way, is by now revealed to be an anthropomorphic rabbit (or “bunyun”) named Rolfwin. The battle / escape spills out of the rabbit-mage’s tree lair into the surrounding forest, where Rolfwin’s apprentice Zephyr, a beautiful young woman who can wield ice magic and is dressed like your average Final Fantasy cosplayer, joins the fray. Once the three just barely manage to take down a nearby tentacled plant colossus, the group sneak their way into a nearby town, where they are given shelter, food and drink by the grateful residents.
Throughout the story, the main antagonist, Abigor, a local crime boss with high ambitions and low morals, continues to turn up as the singular source of the woes of many of the people they meet: More colorful characters join the ranks of our band of heroes, including a hot nubile spider-girl who was swindled out of a lair, and a few hot nubile lady pirates who lost their crew to an attack by Abigor’s men, in addition to our aforementioned hot nubile ice mage apprentice, who along with Rolfwin simply want to see Abigor’s influence gone from the realm (and if you’re noticing a pattern among the female characters, there’s a reason). They all have their own particular axes to grind against a now-common enemy, and head out to warn the king of the realm of their enemy’s activities. Things take a turn for the worse however, when they discover Abigor’s actually working for the king, who then tries to have them all killed. And if you think that’s a hell of a double-cross, just wait. The treachery has only barely begun.
This book has quite the assemblage of otherworldly characters, as seems to be LaPoint’s penchant. While what is listed below is not exhaustive, I’ll focus on the core cast as established by the end of the first act, after the main plot has been set in motion.
Aside from our dimwitted but earnest and heroic main character Jericho, the first person he meets is Rolfwin, the anthropomorphic rabbit wizard who summoned Jericho to his world. Rolfwin is older, and as such is patient, wiser and can ably weild several types of magic. When things become more physical, he can capably use a staff to defend himself, but is not a physically intimidating figure. He’s the leader of the group, keeping the young, bloodthirsty and often hormonal (don’t worry) bunch focused and manages to even plan their moves in secret after Abigor’s grand plan coming to fruition forces them into hiding in the second act. In a book rife with rapid fire quips and one-liners in bonkers situations, Rolfwin’s dry and steady tone keeps the story grounded.
Zephyr is the cute, bubbly sidekick -- a character type LaPoint does quite well. She reminded me of Kasumi, Raven Mistcreek’s kitsune companion in Chalk and Dusklight. Zephyr’s dialogue is often accompanied by exclamation points and almost instantly zeroes in to the reader as Jericho’s love interest, as she becomes almost immediately smitten. Her early (hilarious) advances are rebuffed however, for after sneaking into his room, then accusing him of being a pervert, then telling him that “only matrimony will have me yield my virgin frame to you!” Ken does little more than simply agree and sends her off. Immediately after this, Pok and Lime (see below) reveal themselves from their respective hiding places, and both get similarly shooed away.
What we have here is one of LaPoint’s wonderful twists on isekai’s uglier sister genre, harem fiction; a protagonist who completely eschews all female romantic advances save for one, to whom he pledges only to marry after a proper and unrushed courtship. I’m officially going off on a tangent here, but I don’t care: this is why I consider LaPoint one of the best superversive writers active today-- the consistent ability to pull from styles, genres and elements I’d normally hate and somehow serves up something totally unexpected, unabashedly heroic and undeniably damned fun. Isekai? Not a fan. So much as the concept of the harem genre? Thankfully, he hates it as much as I do. Anthros? Again? Somehow, he did it. LaPoint, you crazy son of a bitch, you did it. Stick this stuff into my veins.
Pok is introduced shortly after the Jericho, Rolfwin and Zephyr flee his besieged tower into a nearby cave system, which turns out not to be as unoccupied as they’d hoped. She’s a spider-girl who’s a lot more girl than spider, but is able to scale walls and produce magic webbing. She also has a tiny spider familiar, Mushy, who is very conversational (though only she can understand him). She’s been double-crossed out of her own lair by Abigor’s henchmen, and becomes not only a valuable sneak attacker in battle, but a stealthy and able spy as well.
Lime, a thickly broughed pirate who makes good use of her archery skills to save Jericho from a back-alley ambush (his hard skull protected him from being knocked out). Her ship was stolen by yep, you guessed it, Abigor, and she’s trying to find whatever members of her crew might still be alive. Her need for revenge and to redeem her failings to those who trusted her is what’s driving her quest to be the one to plunge her sword through the blackguard’s heart.
I praised LaPoint for his worldbuilding in my review of Chalk, and the quality of his efforts here are just as consistent, if very different. Here, he ditches the surreal for a beautifully traditional fantasy setting, complete with thick forests teeming with dangerous and strange creatures, magics of all sorts being flung to and fro, airship battles, scum and villainy, Catholic battle pandas, powerful magical items and cosmic-scale demonic threats. There’s not a page in this book that drops the ball for tone or tempo -- it’s so stuffed with rip-roaring adventure there’s no room for angst or navel gazing. Jericho’s entire backstory is that he’s “a guy who likes to read books and kick evil in the face”. There’s your lore. Now pick up a weapon and start swinging, huh? More undead revenant soldiers just showed up.
Who’s it for?
This book is the equivalent of a great summer action flick: a plot with enough weight and conflict to pull the reader in but never takes itself too seriously. This is sure to please anyone looking for a light fun read for the summer, but will especially please anyone looking for a fun take on traditional fantasy as well as anyone who either loves or hates isekai.
Why read it?
As I mentioned above, one of LaPoint’s great talents (as far as I’m concerned), is to take a lot of elements that seem as thought they shouldn’t work, and write some of the most imaginative, fun, well fleshed out fiction out there. Dusklight for me, seemed to stand in the shadow of his breakout title, the masterwork Chalk. While I wondered as to whether or not he’d ever be able to re-capture that style and spirit, Gun Magus puts those doubts firmly to rest. LaPoint is one to watch, and this book is unquestionably one to read.
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