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Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage Trilogy) Hardcover – April 16, 2013
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"Promise of Blood is a hugely promising debut. Guns, swords, and magic together? What more could you want? How about tense action, memorable characters, rising stakes, and cool, cool magic? Not only the finest flintlock fantasy I've read, but also the most fun. Brian McClellan is the real thing."―New York Times bestseller Brent Weeks
"This book is just plain awesome. I found myself enjoying every moment of it. Innovative magic, quick-paced plot, interesting world. I had a blast."―New York Times bestselling author, Brandon Sanderson
"Brian McClellan is an explosive powder keg of imagination with an expertly-plotted fuse. The stories he tells are the stories we'll be reading for years to come."―Sam Sykes on Promise of Blood
"The world of the privileged sorcerers and the strange abilities of the powder mages who can manipulate gunpowder are just as well drawn in this captivating universe."―RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars)
"McClellan's debut packs some serious heat...A thoroughly satisfying yarn that should keep readers waiting impatiently for further installments."―Kirkus (Starred Review)
"McClellan's debut is a lot of fun --- a historically influenced fantastical romp filled with machismo, intrigue and magic."―SciFi Now (UK)
"McClellan neatly mixes intrigue and action...in a society where new forces like labor unions, gunpowder-armed soldiers, and explosion-causing 'powder mages' clash with traditional magics, more, and beliefs."―Publishers Weekly
"Gunpowder and magic. An explosive combination. Promise of Blood is the best debut I've read in ages."―Peter V. Brett
"I love the world Brian McClellan builds, Powder Mages with flintlock pistols against white-gloved Privileged for the fate of a nation and more. Promise of Blood feels like the start of something amazing."―Django Wexler
"Brings a welcome breath of gunpowder-tinged air to epic fantasy."―Anthony Ryan
About the Author
Brian now lives on the side of a mountain in Utah with his wife, Michele, where he writes books and nurses a crippling video game addiction.
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However, this was not *as* noticeable, the longer the book went on. It's possible I got used to the writing style, but it seems more likely that someone backed off the editing because I did still notice some abruptness later on, but at a much reduced rate. Anyway, it might be a little difficult to get through the first few chapters but I encourage you to stick with it, as I did end up enjoying this book quite a bit.
This has an interesting magic system and I can see why it has been compared to Sanderson -- there are a lot of parallels to the magic in the Mistborn series. Not in the sense of a copy, but more in the sense of multiple types of magic that are not always compatible with one another. We have Privileged, the most powerful sorcerers, most of whom are involved with royal sorcerous cabals in the varying nations of the known world. Accessing their magic requires use of the hands (so cutting off the hand would cut off access to the magic). We have Powder Mages who draw power from gunpowder and can use it to do things like enhance their strength and endurance (even when severely injured) or accomplish otherwise-impossible feats with guns (long-distance shots, altering the paths of bullets, etc.). Gunpowder interferes with the abilities of the Privileged but the Powder Mages have their own vulnerabilities (e.g., air rifles), so neither type can be completely dominated by the others. And then there are Knacked, people who have one talent (like not needing any sleep, ever, or being an incredible cook). There are also hints of people who use the same type of magic as the Privileged, but who are much more powerful, and we come to find out that distant populations often thought to be "savages" have their own magic, as well, that doesn't neatly fit into the known system. (For what it's worth, this is darker/not as "clean" as Sanderson, though it's not the "gritty" stuff that's so popular these days, either.)
The setting is fairly typical for fantasy; it would be pseudo-medieval but for the existence of gunpowder, which gives it a little of a steampunk feel. There's a fair amount of political maneuvering in this book; one nation's king is corrupt and has spent the entire royal treasury. He's in talks to give up a considerable amount of power/resources to his country's primary creditor and he gets killed because of this (not a spoiler, it has already happened as of the first few pages of the book). Trying to pick up the pieces is Tamas, a military leader and Powder Mage. Tamas is one of three main POV characters; his son Taniel is another and Adamat, a retired police inspector, is the third. Tamas and Taniel are Powder Mages (particularly good ones, at that) and Adamat is Knacked.
Tamas and Taniel have a strained relationship at times; some of this comes from the fact that Taniel's mother was executed in a foreign nation and some from the fact that Tamas is Taniel's military superior. Some of this is also due to the fact that Tamas selected another Powder Mage as betrothed for Taniel when Taniel was young, but Taniel caught his fiancee in bed with another man (again, all this information comes at you in the first chapter or two, so it's not really a spoiler). And yet, you can tell father and son care about each other as well. Taniel also has complicated relationships with a "savage" who came back with him from a military engagement, with his ex-fiancee, and with his best friend, who is a Privileged sorcerer. And Adamat is a family man in a tight situation -- he owes a large financial debt and is worried his wife and/or children will be used as leverage against him (or that they will be hurt to frighten/punish him).
At any rate, I do like the world-building very much, and I think the character relationships are wonderfully nuanced and complex (and thus realistic). I like the focus on keeping the leadership of the country together in the face of threats from several sides (we've had a lot of revolutions in fantasy, getting rid of the old order, but accounts of the aftermath of revolution are rarer).
There was one aspect of the story I didn't care for much -- Tamas has brought together people from non-noble leadership roles from across the city. Overall, I think they're a nice mix with precisely the talents and areas of influence that would be needed for an effort such as his. But one of them is a religious leader. Some later scenes at the religious leader's compound highlight the excesses in which this leader partakes. While I don't deny that religious leaders have gotten into trouble in the past (either by lavish spending, sexual abuse, etc.), I think this particular character's excesses go so far as to veer into caricature territory. The man doesn't end up having any redeeming qualities and he's completely one-dimensional. The other members of Tamas's group are more complex and easier to sympathize with.
Overall, though, I found this book to be enjoyable. I thought the pace was pretty good (thankfully, long journeys are not described in agonizing detail), I was surprised a few times, and I thought the worldbuilding and characters were mostly excellent. (The ending had some cliffhanger qualities to it, though. But I think book 2 is out now, or will be soon.) If you can get past the writing style in the early part of the book, you'll probably like this.
To make it brief, the story follows Field Marshall Tamas (the grizzled war veteran pictured) and his cabal of gunpowder fueled sorcerers (hence the rifle he's holding) in the events immediately following his bloody and successful coup d'état (which the quote does a perfect job of setting up). I never thought I'd dedicate the first few lines of a fantasy book review remarking on it's cover, but I was honestly amazed and left confused on why this doesn't happen more often.
Luckily, what's inside the book is just as impressive as the outside of it, and this is a fantastic debut that shows the makings of a must-read series right from the start. There's political intrigue, a interesting world, well-done action scenes, and a unique magic system with powder mages squaring off against Privileged - the more traditional sorcerers we're accustomed to in fantasy. This is the first piece of "flintlock fantasy" that I've read and I found it incredibly interesting and handled wonderfully by the author. I can certainly understand it's growing popularity after reading this and can see it developing into its own subgenre perhaps.
One of the best elements of Promise of Blood is just how quickly it gets going. I try not to put too much stock into a book's beginning, simply because I've read enough now to know that even some of the best books have rather weak starts and take awhile to really get going. In fantasy especially it seems authors have to travel a fine line between boring and confusing readers by dumping too much info at the start, or leaving them frustrated with too little info as terms are tossed around without any meaning to the reader. So while I try not to condemn a book for a weak start, it is incredibly refreshing when a story comes along that sucks you in immediately and wastes no time in getting the plot moving like this one does.
I thought McClellan did a masterful job of giving the reader just enough info to understand what was going on but still leaving some mystery and waiting until just the right time to reveal certain bits of information. If you are the type that HAS to have everything about a world explained at the beginning you'll likely find the method annoying, but I thought it was done well and look forward to learning more about the world and it's history in the coming volumes.
The one complaint I seem to see the most by others is that some find the characters too flat and not interesting enough. I would probably agree that the characters (outside of Tamas, who I thought was handled very well) are the weakest part if I had to choose, but I had no real problems with any of them and it did not take away any of my enjoyment of the story.
Overall I think it's best to describe this book as just plain "cool". The magic system is awesome, the plot is engrossing and moves along quickly, and there's plenty of action and suspense. A fun read and definitely recommended.
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My gripe with it, though, is that the characters lack ...Read more