Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Promise of Blood Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Brian McClellan
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Flintlock Fantasy
Series: Powder Mage Book One
Pages: 608

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Brian McClellan’s debut novel Promise of Blood is the first part of his Powder Mage Trilogy, which focuses its events in a fictional world that looks and feels similar to Revolution Era France. A few strong major characters, a lot of fast pace action scenes, and a magic intense world combine to make a story that’s very entertaining.

Field Marshall Tamas has just successfully led a coup against the King of Adro and his sorcerous protectors, the Royal Cabal. However, one member of the Cabal escapes and Tamas sends his estranged son Taniel along with a few others to pursue her. The members of the Cabal that don’t escape death all utter the same eerie last words: “You can’t break Kresimir’s promise.” Worrying that this may be a significant issue, Tamas hires a renowned inspector named Adamant to discover the meaning behind these words.

Events that surround Tamas and the coup are what nearly everything in this story revolves around. From the get go Tamas has enemies everywhere.  Another a general in Adro immediately opposes Tamas’ removal of the King, the escaped Cabal member appears to be a lot more then what she initially seemed, and the Kez are a people from a nation that have long been enemies to Adro and this revolution may be just the opportunity they’re looking for to conquer the region.  From the get go this is a story with plenty of different conflicts to keep readers on their toes.

The strongest part of Promise of Blood is its magic system. At the beginning readers are introduced to three different kinds of sorcerous persons: knacked, marked, and privileged. Knacked have a single (usually minor) heightened ability or power.  This can include being able to never sleep, having a perfect memory, or being able to tell if someone is lying. Marked have the ability to manipulate gun powder, and typically they end up being trained as powder mages.  They can slightly alter the paths of bullets, extend the range of their shots, and detonate powder charged explosives.  Privileged are the more straight-forward traditional sorcerers, being able to call upon the elements and having a whole host of offensive and defensive spells. Most privileged end up in the Royal Cabal.  All three of these magical classes have a third eye, which can be opened to see whether or not any type of magic is being used, although opening the third eye is said to cause great discomfort, to the point where some characters can’t even do it anymore.

Some of the major characters are flushed out well. Tamas is a powerful powder mage and a skilled general who has a raging temper that often gets the best of him.  His relationship with his son is cold and absent of fond memories, and he still bares the scars from the death of his late wife.  Tamas’ life is constantly in danger. Despite being a brilliant general, he still manages to make clumsy mistakes in regards to keeping himself safe, which contradicts his supposed intelligence. This has a tendency to make a number of conflicts feel forced. When they’re not feeling forced, the battle scenes can be a lot of fun to read.

Tamas’ son Taniel struggles with the absence of love his father has shown him throughout his life.  Like his father, Taniel is also a powder mage who is particularly skilled at long distance shooting, earning him the nickname Taniel Two-Shot.  At the novel’s onset, he’ returned from afar after a successful military campaign, but his personal life is in shambles after he discovered his longtime fiance Vlora was cheating on him. To cope with his emotional pain, Taniel resorts to snorting gun powder like Tony Montana snorts coke. Hunting down the missing Cabal member really expands the story. Julene, a privileged and favorite of Tamas accompanies Taniel on this quest along with Ka-Poel, a savage from afar that Taniel brings back home with him.  Both of these women along with the privileged they’re chasing are all more then they appear.

While Taniel and Tamas are the strongest narrating characters, the other two narrators Adamant and Nila struggle. Adamant is a character that’s interesting more so for what he’s investigating rather then for having any unique personality traits.  He’s a knacked with a near perfect memory, which is why’s he’s been a successful investigator for many years. His debts put him in a situation that could compromise his loyalty.  Adamant is still good deal better narrator then Nila, the Royalist laundress for a noble family. This is a character that completely lacks direction, has no personality, and offers little insight into one of the key groups that opposes Tamas, the nobility. I assume Nila gets narration time for what can be presumed as future important events in other books, otherwise I just don’t see the point of this character.

I also found myself wishing to learn more about some of the minor characters. Bo is a privileged in Adro’s Royal Cabal and Taniel’s best friend from childhood, but little is mentioned about his history.  Ka-Poel the mute savage could also potentially be an interesting narrator.  I’ve always wanted to get inside the head of a character that doesn’t speak, and the fact that she’s viewed as a savage could lead to a lot of interesting plot devices.  Furthermore there aren’t a whole lot of strong women, Vlora appears sporadically and could be turned into something, but realistically besides introducing a new character, that strong woman will have to be Ka-Poel.

This series bares a lot of similarities to Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns – both are flintlock fantasies inspired by the Napoleon era.  If you ‘re looking to read only one of these books, I’d break the differences down like this: If you’re looking for a character driven and historical fantasy much like George R.R. Martin’s books then I’d go with Wexler and The Thousand Names. If you’re looking for a fast paced fantasy with a developed magic system much like Brandon Sanderson’s books then I’d go with McClellan.

Score: 7.0

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