Author: Matt Forbeck
Publisher: Angry Robots
Release Date: March 2011
It's a kind of magic... When two college freshmen decide to spend Spring Break using their magic to fleece the gambling tables of Las Vegas, little do they imagine that Vegas harbors some magical secrets of its own... And of course what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas - alive or dead.
Vegas Knights is a standalone novel, described on the cover as “Ocean’s Eleven meets Harry Potter as two student wizards try to scam a Vegas casino…using magic!” Harry Potter is the go-to cover blurb shorthand for wizardry nowadays, and while in Vegas Knights we follow students of magic, the similarities to Harry Potter end there. Vegas Knights reads more like a supernatural Bringing Down the House. The plot is cleverly woven but the characters rely on smarts rather than outright power which makes a serious change for the genre.
Two college students, Bill and Jackson, are in Vegas on Spring Break with a surefire way to win big at the casinos. No, they’re not card counters, one of their college professors has taught them how to do magic. The story begins in media res, with them already in Vegas and using magic. I would have liked a bit more explanation and discussion of how the two protagonists first learned magic. That’s kind of a big deal, frankly. Anyway, they quickly run afoul of the local Powers That Be in Vegas, a cabal of ruthless magicians, who don’t like customers using magic. The main villain of the book is an undead Harry Houdini who wants to restore his moldering corpse to life.
Vegas Knights is populated by a varied, realistic cast – all of whom are fun to read about. The length of the novel doesn’t allow for much character development or growth, but I think in this instance that’s ok – this is meant to be fun. The dialogue is crisp and realistic (I think there was only one instance when it didn’t feel natural), and Forbeck has created a rather winning ‘system’ of magic and how it affects the real world. I was drawn in by the vivid descriptions of the glitz and glamour of the city but the author also takes time to expose the dark, magical underbelly of Las Vegas.