Hypable has an exclusive look at the dazzling cover art for A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, a story of incriminating magic and intoxicating love.
Set in an alternate Prohibition period, Lee Kelly’s sophomore novel imagines an America where magic has been outlawed by the 18th Amendment. As in our own history, crime skyrockets, economies (legal and otherwise) revolt, and heady substances flow freely — if you know where to find them.
The cover of A Criminal Magic captures Kelly’s whirling ’20s as lightning in a glass. Equal parts glamour and danger, the artwork suggests an intoxicating brew of magic, crime, and an illicit love that may be the riskiest ingredient of all.
Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive — and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while anti-sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic — and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.
Interview with Lee Kelly
Tell us five random facts about yourself.
1. I’m strangely superstitious — not in a carrying-a-rabbit’s-foot kind of way, but in a really random and extra irrational way. Like, “If it rains, then I’ll get a decent review from Publisher’s Weekly,” and, “If I make this green light, my agent will like my proposal.”
2. I’ve never been able to read, write or study while listening to music, with the exception of the Road to Perdition soundtrack, which I started listening to during college finals… and kept listening to through law school exams, studying for the bar, and particularly tough editorial revisions.
3. I had to wear a brace for scoliosis in middle school during the same few years that I was sporting a “twin block” retainer (picture a cross between braces and a mouth guard). So those were really fun times.
4. I consider myself a “serious film watcher” — and yet every time I have the chance to rent a movie with my sisters, we end up with a fantastically cheesy, girly pick like The Other Woman or Miss Congeniality 2.
5. Even though I love scary movies and horror novels, I have awful nightmares, and have had them since I was a kid — though the silver lining is I’ve used some as inspiration for writing.
What is your favorite element of the cover for A Criminal Magic?
Wow, this is tough. I really like the bold, clean type, and the storm brewing at the top of the cover, but I think my absolute favorite aspect of the design is the drinking glass in the middle. The novel takes place in an alternative Prohibition-era America where magic has been prohibited, and one of the most coveted, dangerous elixirs on the black market is a product called “sorcerer’s shine” — which is water transformed into pure magic.
The artist, Steve Stone, totally captured this transformation — I can practically see the water swirling into pure magic inside of that glass.
Why did you most want to write this story?
With this novel, I really set out to write a story that I personally wanted to read, versus a story that I thought might be on trend or for a certain market (whether that’s a good idea is a question for smarter and savvier people than me!) And I’ve always been such a fan of gangster movies and TV shows, especially ones that have a cat-and-mouse element to them (The Departed, The Untouchables, Donnie Brasco, and Peaky Blinders, to name a few). And I was really curious about how that type of twisty, violent story would play out on paper.
After some brainstorming, I decided that my 1920s gangster story would involve magic, as I can’t help but gravitate toward the supernatural.
So the concept of “prohibited magic” started as the real driving force for me, but once I started drafting, and working with my editor, Navah Wolfe, I finally understood that the two main characters, Alex and Joan (and how they regarded themselves and each other) were the true heart of the story. I ended up caring about both of them far more than I ever imagined I would.
So I guess the concept was why I started writing this story, and the characters were why I wanted to finish it.
Which is easier to write: The first line, or the last line?
The first line, definitely! First lines come to me quickly, like story ideas, and I get all jazzed about an idea/first line combo for a while before I think about whether that idea might have the stamina to run into a full novel (most of them don’t). The last line – writing that hopefully perfect note to end an entire novel, and close a world – that’s a lot more challenging for me.
What are you working on now?
On the writing front, I’m in the midst of brainstorming and outlining two other YA/crossover thrillers (all of them have some touch of the supernatural). I’m also revising a middle grade project that I’ve been tinkering with on and off for years.
On the personal side, I just had my second child, Summer Evalyn, in August – so she and her brother are keeping me very busy too ;)