Title: Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, The Autumn Republic
Author: Brian McClellan
Synopsis: It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.
But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…
I thoroughly enjoyed PROMISE OF BLOOD and the entire Powder Mage Trilogy! Brian McClellan pairs highly compelling characters with a gritty setting that seems an alt mix of the French and American Revolutions era. It’s one heck of a fun read!
While each of the POV characters is well written and engaging, it’s Tamas and Taniel (individually and in their dicey father-son dynamic) that kept pulling me on. They’re very different and intriguing each in his own way.
Taniel is young, already a frontier war hero, but a little anchorless and hot-headed. It’s a fun combination to read, especially when McClellan pairs him with a feisty mute frontier mage named Ka-Poel. Their chemistry is delightful, all the more so because it’s unspoken.
Tamas is the brilliant veteran Field Marshal who simultaneously rallies the country and seeks revenge for his murdered wife. He’s borderline arrogant, carries of a burden of responsibility that makes Atlas look like a lazy child, and somehow always seems to find the solution. He’s one of those leaders who does what needs doing no matter the cost and, even when I didn’t like or agree with him, I still admired him and wanted others to follow. I LOVE seeing characters like this done well!
McClellan also does an excellent job blending his magic system with the technology and weapons of the time–guns and guillotines, not the chivalrous longswords of traditional fantasy. Instead, soldiers known as powder mages can internalize gunpowder themselves and manipulate its effects in battle in a range of skills that unfold into incredible fight sequences. They’re just plain cool!
The world of PROMISE OF BLOOD includes a few other “magics” as well. Privileged are those who can touch an essence of magic known as the Else. They fill the role most familiar from other fantasy series, where characters can “tap into” the magic and wield it at will. Part of what I loved about the Powder Mage trilogy, however, was these traditionally high-power mages weren’t front and center. They’re side characters–important, to be sure–but they take a back seat to the far more fascinating military prowess of the Powder Mages.
I also enjoyed the “Knacked” class of magic users in the trilogy. These are everyday folks who happen to be very gifted in one specific area (i.e. having a knack). Not needing sleep. Having a perfect memory. McClellan takes full advantage of the Knackeds’ abilities, and it’s brilliant! Olem, Tamas’ right hand man who requires no sleep, is one of my favorite characters.
The presence of Knacks left me wondering why we fantasy authors have overlooked this simple trick in the past.
If I had one nit-pick it’s that I wanted a little more creativity in the naming of places and landmarks. Everything (and I mean everything) stems from the country’s name of Adro – the capital city of Adopest, the Adsea, the Addown River, etc.
But, beyond that niggle, McClellan’s world is beautifully and deeply crafted, anchored in detail. It has to be since so much of the stakes revolve around saving the nation of Adro. McClellan adds multiple high fantasy layers, with warring gods and prophecies, but at its heart, the Powder Mage trilogy is about soldiers’ love for their country and the lengths to which they’ll go to keep it free and alive.
And I absolutely loved it!!