Monday, October 27, 2014

Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage trilogy book #1) #review

Title: Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage trilogy book #1)
Author: Brian McClellan
Publisher: Orbit, 2013

With main characters stating early on in the story that “The age of kings is dead…and I have killed it,” I knew immediately that Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan was going to go places standard sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels don’t. Well, move over swords, and make space for gunpowder, bayonets and, as the title suggests, plenty of bloodshed.

A new breed of magic has arisen, in the form of powder mages, who manipulate gunpowder to devastating effect. It seems almost a natural development that these same powder mages end up central to the plot to overthrow a corrupt, decadent nobility.

We follow the story primarily from the point of view of three main characters. Field Marshal Tamas understood that his task as the mastermind behind the coup would not be simple, but from the moment the king loses his head, plans for the military man hardly ever come to fruition as initially intended.

That’s where the detective work comes in. Adamat has a magical Knack – he has a perfect memory – and while intrigue stews and war brews, he has limited time to unravel plots that threaten to undermine all of Tamas’s attempts to right past injustices.

Taniel, also a powder mage and Tamas’s son, has an added burden – at a battle front and faced with a challenge he cannot hope to overcome. He has allies, however, and his journey is perhaps the most fascinating of the three story arcs, because it goes into unfamiliar territory.

With the three primary characters in mind, it is perhaps easy to find a little something for most readers here – be it Tamas’s incredible ability to survive attempts on his life; Adamat’s detective work and slow uncovering of intrigue; and Taniel’s quest up mountainous region reminiscent of Tibet – there is a lot going on in this story, and McClellan keeps up a relentless pace yet masterfully holds the narrative together so that the tension is just right.

This is fantasy that blends various genres with a visceral degree of realism. Some elements, like the cave lions and Taniel’s final challenge, did feel a bit awkward to me in execution, but that might just be personal taste on my part. Mihali the master chef with his magical cooking was a wonderful touch, as was the savage Ka-poel, both of whom I’m sure will be further developed in subsequent books.

Characters are flawed and often face seemingly impossible choices, in a world that is gritty and violent. I gained the sense that McClellan draws on many historical influences, such as the French Revolution and the American Civil War, which will offer a touchstone of familiarity to readers.

Tightly plotted and fast paced, this novel is only disappointing in that I reached the end of book one far too quickly.


  1. I definitely think I'll be checking this one out!

    1. It's a goodie. Definitely a voice to look out for.