Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan: Fantastic Flintlock Fantasy Debut
Brian McClellan’s debut, Promise of Blood, part # 1 of the Powder Mage trilogy is a delightful read and has all the promise to be the debut of the year.
I picked up the book on amazon on sale period – after having eyed it for close to six months since it released. I had first read about Brian on Aidan’s blog – where I read about the mentor Brandon Sanderson’s influence on Brian’s writing and about his detailed magic systems. I was hooked. And now that I’ve read his first book, I am a fan!
Promise of Blood is set in the world of Adro, the Kingdom of Adopest where Field Marshall Tamas has just successfully led the bloody revolution to overthrow the King and set the platform for a democracy. The age of Kings is dead…And I have killed it. Absolutely killer line to hook someone into a story.
Brian chooses a wonderfully complex situation to begin and build his story. Right in the middle of a sweet chaos – an effective short fuse for conspiracies to swirl up dark and forbidding and prophecies to unfold. What begins as a single dimensional straightforward story of a military general who has overthrown monarchy and wants nothing more than peace and prosperity for the people of Adro rapidly spirals into a multi-dimensional convoluted plot involving a delightfully original magical system, neighbours at war, political intrigue and Gods coming back to the world for revenge.
Did that pique your interest? It certainly should. Because Brian writes with a lot of panache and gusto sucking us deeper into his adroitly built up world and the never ending action adventures of his three main characters in the story. The action is relentless, the fun never ending as the Field Marshal has to content not only with the disgruntled nobility who might lead a counter-revolution but the neighbouring dogs who keep snapping at the borders of Adro as well rogue magicians who are at large and who have darker world-shattering ambitions in place.
The story unfolds from the POV of three main characters – And Tamas, the ageing Field Marshal certainly steals the show as the man who has to take up all the hardships of steering a country on the brink of revolution and war and in the process becomes a hated father as he’s got to cloak his love with the duty for his country. He is shown to be the man steely enough to take the hard decisions that would come back to haunt him but takes it in his stride and fights the odds stacked up sky high. The powder mage, a brilliant tactician and a brave general leads from the front and that makes him my favourite character of the book.
Taniel “Two Shot” is the second main lead, the estranged son of Tamas, the most gifted powder mage around who can float and shoot a bullet smack into the centre of the target from at least three miles away. Taniel is sent away to track and down and ‘contain’ a rebel ‘Priveleged” with unknown magical powers who poses a threat to Tamas’s rule and plans. Naturally, he gets the action-adventure bits and its quite an engrossing read to follow Taniel’s adventures. He probably gets the meatiest bit in terms of character development. A ex-fiancee who is a childhood lover, a best friend whom he has to kill, a female mute savage who’s his self appointed protector? Quite a few interesting situations, my friend.
The third bit, is where Brian sets in a bit of a private investigation and mystery – Adamat is a private investigator on the wrong side of perhaps forty – called in by Tamas to investigate a cryptic message, “Kresimir’s Promise”. Adamat’s track is also fairly interesting as he gets sucked into deeper darker conspiracies that could spiral into something bigger. I found him and Tamas to be a little alike in their characterization though Adamat is easily the more accessible and thus more endearing one.
Side characters are plenty and very well fleshed out and each deserving a separate story and track to themselves. My favorites were Olem – the bodyguard of Tamas with his witty repartees and solidarity and Ka-Poel, the mute savage girl with the voodoo doll magic who is Taniel’s self-appointed protector. Vlora and Nila, the only two female characters with some potential are sadly left to languish.
The magic system is detailed and very well thought out – Full points to Brian for being original - there are three different types of magical talent people possess – the Knacked, people with special powers like maybe going without sleep or a memory never to forget anything. The Priveleged – magicians who can touch the “Else” and create or destroy using this power. The Marked – or the powder mages who keep snorting black gunpowder and can significantly improve their senses – sight, smell and hearing – as well shoot a bullet over long distances without really using a gun. Knacked reminds you of Lashings eh? ( Words of Radiance coming up in 2014, Hooray! A little disappointing how much Brian has let Sanderson creative writing teachings seep through.)
Overall, a well-crafted engaging debut that smacks of greater things to come. A world with its own complex set of socio-political heavings and myths and backstories to further mystique and enthral readers, Adro has been built up very well by Brian McClellan – with enough hints to be picked up in further stories as he makes a strong statement in the world of fantasy. Some compare him to earlier Brent Weeks (Night Angel Trilogy) – But trust me, the Powder Mages story is much more fun and gallops along like an unrestrained colt, bursting for the gates. With things poised to pick up even more explosively by the second book, Crimson Campaign, Powder Mages story is a worthy addition to the fantasy world. Highly recommended!