Today, I’m reviewing my latest read from Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage world. Yes, I realize I’ve been devouring these things fairly regularly lately, and I do sound like a major fanboy whenever I review one, but I can’t help it: I love this stuff. So much so, in fact, that I’m going to start reading The Crimson Campaign next week. (Just a little forewarning for those of you who tire of my gushing adoration for the series.) But let us focus on Ghosts of the Tristan Basin.
As your brain begins to create the images described in Ghosts’ first paragraph, the swampy wildlands of Fatrastan slowly materialize before your reading eyes; Taniel Two-Shot and Ka-poel, his native companion, busy fighting guerrilla-style war against the invading Kez soldiers. Our duo part of the Tristan Ghost Irregulars, who have spent the Fatrastan War of Independence haunting the marshy Tristan Basin, harassing and killing any enemy troops or their native allies foolish enough to be caught unawares.
By now, the Ghosts are well known among their friends and enemies alike. They are respected and feared as is their deadly powder mage Taniel, whose impossible shooting has built him quite the reputation. But now new orders have reached them, directing them to leave their concealment in the swamp; orders they cannot ignore as they have others before. The leader of the revolution herself is calling ALL rebel forces to gather at the city of Planth; their mission to protect the small hamlet at all costs from a huge (by Fatrastan standards) Kez army marching upon it. The reason for this because something vitally important and irreplaceable to the revolutionary effort is hidden there!
Now, there are lots and lots of things to like about this novella, so to keep me from missing any, I’m going to list them one at a time.
1) Powder mages. I know I always mention them, but I find these guys terribly interesting. I am almost prepared to dub them as my Jedi Knights of the 21st Century. Almost. But not quite yet. They are damn cool though.
2) Taniel Two-Shot and Ka-poel. These guys are pure reading gold for me. Their somewhat unusual relationship and Taniel’s obvious daddy issues really interesting for me to read about. I especially like seeing these early days of their partnership when they are still getting acquainted with one another.
3) Fastran. Obviously, this “new world” and its struggle for freedom mirrors in many ways the real world American Revolution, so there are many familiar themes and events transpiring around our heroes. However, since I personally find the Revolutionary War Period in US history very interesting, I thought this fantasy take on it was amazing. I suppose it isn’t much different than my love of the Powder Mage trilogy subverting the French Revolution.
4) Since I’m really anxious to get my hands on Mr. McClellan’s next book (Sins of Empire, which is the first installment of Gods of Blood and Powder), and since the novel is set in Fatrastan, and since some of the characters in that story actually appear in Ghosts, I was totally excited to get a close up look at the Lady Chancellor and Colonel Ben Styke. The hard-as-nails colonial leader and her half-crazy commander of the Mad Lancers burst off the pages; their personalities clearly shown, their future clashes foreshadowed, and a lot of excitement elicited (at least, in me) for the story of how Ben Style becomes “convicted war hero Styke” and how the leader of a war for freedom turns into a dictator who suppresses her people with a secret police force. Sounds like the next series is going to be amazing.
The only criticism I could level at this novella is the continued ineptitude of the our heroes Kez adversaries. No, they are not as incompetent or as inaccurate as Star Wars storm troopers, but these guys damn sure trip all over themselves constantly. Mr. McClellan definitely provides plausible explanations for their deficiencies, but the Kez here did leave me wanting more skilled, more ominous villains facing Taniel, Ka-pel, and “Mad” Ben Styke.
To put it all into perspective for the big conclusion, Ghosts of the Tristan Basin is a fun-filled, flintlock adventure with American Revolutionary War themes and awe-inspiring powder mage daring-do. It entertains while also organically introducing readers to two of the main characters in the next series by Mr. McClellan. Hell, it even does a great job of building excitement for that next book (Sins of Empire) without making a reader feel like that is its main purpose. So if you like short, epic fantasy stories, love Mr. McClellan’s writing, or need another fix of powder mage awesomeness, you need to go download this one immediately.