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 aforementioned students of magic, Jackson and Bill, are earning secret degrees in magic studies (publicly titled “trans-quantum postulating”) at University of Michigan’s Residential College. The boys are interested in putting their studies to practical use, however, and decide to spend spring break in Vegas. Since they have magical powers that can alter the faces of cards, they plan on winning big at card games. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t pay enough attention in their Magical Logic 101 class, where they should have learned that (1) if they have magic powers, so must others, and (2) if they can bet on anything, it’s that other wizards must have dreamed up the same get-rich-quick schemes. When they learn these lessons the hard way, Jackson and Bill will have to figure out how to escape Sin City alive.
The action sequences in Vegas Knights put to shame even the highest-budgeted action movies. Where directors need millions of dollars in special effects and stunts, Forbeck uses language to much greater effect. Forbeck, rather than plucking words from the dictionary like the rest of us, forms his language from distilling the most potent shots of adrenaline. I have held my breath before; I have felt my heartbeat rise before; but never have I physically shaken from the rush generated from the action contained in a book until I read Vegas Knights. When the Author’s Note at the end of the book mentioned that Forbeck once tried to develop this concept as a movie, the only surprising fact was that he never got far.
Even when the action stops, the excitement never abates. I enjoyed the Mojo Poker showdown, and even yearned to have my own copy of Mojo Poker: The Game and the Rules. Without spoiling too much, Vegas Knights pleasantly surprises with its incorporation of real life magic lore and figures, as well as gaming references.
Little character development
Just as you don’t walk into the theater expecting in-depth character development from The Fast and the Furious, don’t expect too much character development in Vegas Knights. The characters are a little one-note—for example, Jackson is the hero whose powers are greater than he could have imagined, and Bill is the sidekick who gets distracted by the glitz and the glamor. The emotions rely more on paradigmatic relationships—that is, we can relate to a mother loving her son without much explanation—than the author’s careful construction. But this is a book where the story and the action take the front seat—and what story and action they are!
Why should you read this book?
If you’re craving a fast-paced action adventure, skip a movie and grab a copy of Vegas Knights instead. If you don’t mind characters that never break their archetypal molds, you’ll savor the magic rocket ride that is Vegas Knights and its action in spades. This is popcorn fantasy at its best.
Benni received a review copy of this book courtesy of Angry Robot.