This is the second time White Wolf has attempted a roleplaying supplement centered around a time period within living memory for the New World of Darkness. Like with New Wave Requiem I was excited to check it out even though I didn't actively play the game it was based on. I own the Mage: the Awakening book but haven't read it all the way through, which may show in my review.
Mage Noir isn't just about setting your Mage game within the genre of the noir post-war film genre, it is very concerned with capturing the theme and mood of the time period. Before I read this book I had no idea noir film and that era of crime fiction in general was so thoroughly shaped by America's experiences with World War II, but Noir mentions the war so often you would think it was White Wolf's guide to that war. There is a lot of psychosocial dwellings on the scars left from war, it very much reminded me of watching Shutter Island a few weeks back. The other surprising aspect of Mage Noir was how little it was concerned with educating the gamer about noir movies. Usually there is a pretty good "recommended viewing/reading" in a White Wolf book but that was very brief here. Strange since the cinematic experience wrapped the book so tightly. But if you want to run a serious, dramatic Mage Noir game I guess the writer's figured you would do that research on your own, and check out criticism of the film genre to find out that The Third Man and The Naked City are really worth checking out. It was just surprising, considering the title.
What is there is a lot of great information for the storyteller and player. As with New Wave Requiem I liked the discussion of how technology and culture differ from the present day. Identity is much more mutable, for instance in the postwar period. A forged driver's license is your talisman allowing the move across the country and fulcrum to remake your identity, provided your fingerprints are not tracked to some past crime. Authors did a great job giving storytellers and players an understanding into the major social and political movements of the time and American's overall psychological philosophical relationship with the war's legacy.
Speaking of that word, the new Legacy in the book is worth the price of admission. Mage Noir succeeded as a book because it made me want to play Mage for the first time, and I don't think I would ever want to shoot for any other Legacy than The Quiescent. Nicknamed The Liars, the founders of this Legacy saw a truth about Magic that The Technocracy grasped in Mage: the Ascension did back in the Thirteenth Century, that technology had surpassed magic; antibiotics could save lives just as effectively without the risk of failure and Paradox and the atomic bomb could destroy with more vulgarity than the strongest Forces spell. They reacted in a much different manner, however. The Quiescent disdain any forms of vulgar magic, their spells are subtle and arcane but rarely can be proved to be an actual supernatural practice. They rely on their wits and mundane abilities more. One of the pre-generated characters is given a great quote that sums up the whole attitude quite well. "Who? Oh, right. He's dead. I shot him in the face while he was waving his arms around and looking like a complete idiot." These hard-boiled guys and femme fatale females have no use for cloaks, daggers and pentacles.
Lastly, I like the sample characters and how the illustrate the intent of the book and reflect the time period and genre of noir. Everything from a former USO entertainer turned nightclub singer to a Nietzsche spouting Thyrsus urban mystic, they all had a 1940s silver screen sparkle on them. Another big plus is the Bauhaus-inspired fonts that so well incorporate the 40's design of the book are the most readable for any Awakening book.
[5 of 5 Stars!]