Among recent epic fantasies, Promise of Blood does a great job of balancing old high fantasy tropes with elements of more recent, blood-soaked low fan..Show More »tasy of a Martin or an Abercrombie. McClellan's world is one on the cusp of industrialization and revolution, and we actually meet the main characters immediately after a French Revolution-style coup. Magic is generally part of the old world order, with the exception of Powder Mages, wizards whose abilities center around gunpowder. However, the toppling of dynasties set up by ancient gods turns out to be a fraught thing, and the book does an excellent job balancing threats both mystical and practical.
The worldbuilding is remarkably detailed and interesting. McClellan has put a lot of thought into how sorcery would be used in a war of muskets and swords, and even how the economics and politics of the world work out. His three main characters are also fascinating (though they can take a lot of punishment and survive!), and, through their eyes, the story becomes alternately a high fantasy adventure to stop an evil sorceress, a murder mystery, and a political thriller.
If there is a weakness, it is that, in this nuanced world, the bad guys seem a little flat compared to the well-rounded, and interesting flawed, protagonists. They are also often neigh-unkillable, and a little too prone to mustache-twirling acts of cruelty and monologues about their evil plans. This wouldn't have been an issue except that the rest of the book seems so much more sophisticated.
This was well-read and a real winner. I am going to download the next book in the series right after writing this review!
I've tended to avoid epic fantasy lately - typically, the investment of time and dreariness of the storylines can be daunting. But the unique set up, ..Show More »interesting world building, grounded and realistic characters, and intricate plot line had me completely hooked with Promise of Blood. The story is exceedingly well written and had me enthralled from the first scene.
Story: Adamat is a veteran police detective who finds himself on the doorstep of a coup - an overthrow of the monarchy. Field Marshall Tamas has led a revolution with his powerful powder mages but now must stabilize the situation in the City - especially with neighboring countries circling like vultures. His son, Taniel, resents his powerful but distant father but finds himself embroiled in the coup. And Nila, the laundress, will use all her wiles to protect a little boy, her noble employer's son, from execution. Together, they will find that Tamas' coup will have set far more into motion than either could ever have realized.
First off, this really is epic fantasy. I love that the feeling of a revolutionary era France was taken and woven into an intricate story featuring magic and Gods, guns and carriages. It could have really gone wrong but instead was a perfect complement of technology (guns), magic systems (from powder mages to "knacked"), and very intricate politics. The story starts very small, converges for a short time, and then explodes across the country as we follow the four main characters in their individual quests.
The characters were extremely well done. The interactions between Taniel and Poel, Adamat and SouSmith, Tamas and his generals/bodyguards were grounded, realistic, and fascinating. As well, the incredibly intricate plot that slowly builds and expands - starting with a coup but ending up being so much more, kept me intrigued. This isn't a simple story on any level - not the world building, characters, politics, diverse magic system, or plot. I am greatly looking forward to the next book in the series.
I listened to the audible version and the narrator did an excellent job with all the different characters.
I really enjoyed the first book of the Powder Mage trilogy, and was, in many ways, even more impressed by the second. After the ending of the first bo..Show More »ok, I was a bit worried that this novel would represent the typical weak middle of a fantasy trilogy, especially a trilogy by a new writer, but McClellan does a great job of both upping the stakes and the action, as well as providing many twists without punching too many holes in the plot. In short, if you liked the first book, this one has more magic, more detective work, and more Napoleonic battles, and is generally better in every way.
Except... There were a few annoyances that crept into this novel. The first was purely stylistic. McClellan really likes cutting between his characters, leaving them at cliff-hanger moments to jump to the next POV. While this can sometimes build excitement and suspense, it starts to get a little tiring, as plots are interrupted at key moments, and sometimes only returned to after the action is complete. It isn't terrible, but it did bother me at particular points.
The second problem is a bit deeper. McClellan is not particularly good at writing about relationships. He tells us that people love each other, but it is usually completely unconvincing. For example, the ex-fiancee of one of the main characters is someone we are apparently supposed to care a lot about, but she remains a cypher, as does the relationships between most of the other couples in the novel. Some time is spent on her motivations, but it is hard to really get invested in it, given how little personality or back story she has.
At the root of this, the problem really seems to be that McClellan has trouble writing women, a not altogether unheard-of problem in fantasy. His main female characters are all rather odd and one-dimensional, ranging from mute women to venial generals to the strangely maternal and sketchily-written laundress. With one exception, there really is no overt issue here, it isn't like the author seems to have a problem with women or placing them in positions of authority or power, more that he doesn't feel comfortable using them as characters, which results in some oddness in the novel, especially in relationships. (The exception, by the way, is that in this novel McClellan uses rape, and the threat of rape, quite a bit in ways that seemed unnecessary and uncomfortable).
Don't let these criticisms turn you away from the series, which really is quite good, and better than most epic fantasy. The worldbuilding is terrific, the action is great, and the reading is superb. I am already downloading the next one as I write this review.
A testament to the Powder Mage Trilogy: I listened to all three books, over 50 hours of it, in a row. While I had issues with some of the series (esp..Show More »ecially the middle book), it ends on a high note, as The Autumn Republic has many fewer issues -- especially with plotting, token women, and well-rounded relationships -- than either of the former novels. Further, the action remains excellent, the characters get more interesting, and the pace only increases.
It also works well as a final book. In what was a bit of a surprise given the sprawling world-building, almost all of the loose ends of the novels are wrapped up satisfactorily, and the many twists in the novel turn out to evolve naturally from hints laid down in the earlier books. Even better, after a rather grim second book, McClellan finally decides that, despite the low-magic world and constant warfare, he is not really writing grimdark fantasy, but rather the kind of novel where everything works out in satisfying and mostly unambiguous ways. There may be other novels about the powder mages, but this trilogy is a complete work on its own.
This means that, if you haven't read the series, you should. Despite occasional issues, it is engaging trilogy, and one of the best new voices in fantasy in the last couple years. And very well read, as well!