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REVIEW: 'Promise of Blood' by Brian McClellan


The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.
It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It's up to a few...
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...


REVIEW:

Promise of Blood focuses mainly on three point-of-views throughout the story.  Tamas, the field marshal of the 'Powder Mages' you see pictured on the cover, his son Taniel, a skilled powder mage under his command but with a tense relationship with his father, and Adamat, an investigator hired by Tamas.  There is one additional POV that gets a much smaller part of the story, Nila, a laundress that watched over one of the heirs of the former king, but her story
seems like it is only just getting started and I'd expect to see more of her in the following novels.  Taniel's former lover, Vlora, another powder mage, seems fit for a major role as well, despite not getting much time in the book and overall, McClellan has no shortage of interesting characters.

From the cover, you might assume the story is about Tamas overthrowing a kingdom, but it actually begins after he has already taken over.  This puts him in a much more challenging role as a warrior trying to govern a city instead of just trying to fight someone, though he finds out there is no shortage of people willing to bring a battle to him.  The novel gradually builds, focusing at first on Tamas' challenges with the city after taking over, dealing with rebels and a tense population at first, but more and more of the larger picture is revealed to Tamas and the reader as the story progresses.  Though I try to avoid spoilers when possible, so won't offer many specifics, it should be said that as that focus shifts, the tone of the story shifts with it.  From that more grounded story, to one that focuses on old legends, magic and gods. The story isn't just about a new age as guns and industry grow in the world, as is it about the legends of a world of ancient fantasy not being so easily dismissed.

Adamat, his investigator, offers a different perspective on the story than what we get from Tamas and his son Taniel.  Adamat, a much weaker character than many of the other players in the story, relies more on his experience and intelligence than on power and is one of the more relatable characters of the story, but Taniel is probably the main 'heroic adventurer' of the novel.  If Adamat is Tamas' investigator, Taniel is his hunter, sent to kill some of the traditional royal mages that escaped his purge at the beginning of the novel.  As Tamas and Adamat slowly discover more and more of what is really going on in the world, Taniel is thrust into it head first as powerful magic and old gods take over the plot and he is forced to fight against powers beyond anything he imagined possible.

Various forms of magic play a major role in the story.  Powder Mages, or Marked, can magically control the black powder used to fire flintlock weapons, setting it off with their own power, taking some into their own bodies to enhance their strength and senses, and more.  This puts them at odds with the more traditional mages, Privileged, who use their own gifts and rune covered gloves to control the 'Else', the source of magic.  The relationship between Marked and Privileged plays a major role in the dynamic of the world.  Lesser magically gifted characters also exist, with simple abilities like perfect memories, the ability to go without sleep, etc., referred to as Knacked.  As the story gets deeper, more powerful sorcerers of an older age are also revealed.  With old gods and ancient mages at the forefront by the end, the worry could be losing the story in the sometimes outlandish aspects of fantasy and high magic, but in Promise, McClellan manages to keep it grounded, mostly thanks to his excellent work with the characters.


BOTTOM LINE:

 Due to McClellan being a student of Brandon Sanderson, the desire to compare their work is there, and though the quality of his work is comparable, I found it more similar in feel to work from Brent Weeks myself.  From the other flintlock fantasy stories I've read, this also rates among the best, and probably does such a good job of mixing the more modern flintlock age with fantasy that it barely feels like it should be labeled as a sub-genre.  His character work shines through whatever category the book might fall in and makes this one of the best debuts in recent years, as well as places it among the best novels this year.


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