Tamas is (arguably) the driving force of the Powder Mage trilogy; his force of personality, his vision for a new future what propels the series from its bloody beginnings in Promise of Blood to its concluding scenes in The Autumn Republic. So when I began reading these prequel stories, one of my main objectives was to learn more about this man, more about the past which molded him, and especially more about his deceased wife, whose memory still looms large in everything Field Marshal Tamas does. Well, Servant of the Crown fulfilled my every desire; Brian McClellan pulling the curtain back on a young commoner who has defied all odds to become a captain in the Adran Army but finds that he has yet to face down the worst the world has to offer.
From the first sentence of this story, Tamas’ force of will, drive, and perseverance shines through. A duel of honor between himself and a Duke’s son, who has openly ridiculed Tamas’ common background, quickly establishing the tone of the young Captain Tamas. The fight’s conclusion and its inevitable repercussions propelling the narrative into pulse-pounding, edge of your seats adventure, as our proud soldier finds love with a young Kez noblewoman named Erika but must face down certain death at the hands of a member of the Royal Cabal, who has determined to end the rise of Tamas before it can truly begin.
Sounds damn good, doesn’t it? And it is. This short, compact story delivering enough twists and turns to keep even the most demanding fan reading until the end. Knowledge of Tamas’s future does add more meaning to the events but it isn’t really necessary for one to just enjoy every second of this rollicking, suspenseful adventure.
As always, the Powder Mage world itself with all its similarities and wonderful differences with real world historical periods is on full display here. Powder mages, royal cabal (mages), musketeers, duelists, and scheming royals strutting their stuff all over the pages, dazzling in their diverse personalities and colorful chaos. Political schemes, magical fights, and powder mage awesomeness radiating from every page.
What sets Servant of the Crown apart from other Powder Mage novellas, though, is the focus on characterization. Here young Tamas slowly comes to life from scene to scene; his past, his insecurities, his dreams presented in the most appropriate way. The gruffy Butcher of Nobles turning into a living, breathing man whom I could more easily understand and empathize with. But what I personally enjoyed even more was getting to know Erika (Tamas’s future wife). I certainly found her introduction in Forsworn well done, but here she bursts into life, revealing a proud, strong woman who can both dazzle you with her feminine charm yet cut you into shreds with her masterful dueling skills. Not only is she the perfect partner for this young, ambitious Tamas but also a lady you could see the elder Field Marshal never being able to truly replace. Hell, I’m even a little in love with her now, but please don’t mention that to Tamas, because I’m sure he’d kill me — if Erika didn’t do it first.
All in all, this short story is another great piece of the Powder Mage puzzle Mr. McClellan is slowly putting together via novels and novellas. It really is a wonderful place for many, many reasons that I have explained in my other reviews, and it just keeps getting better — which scares me a little since I keep wondering how much longer the brilliance can last.