The alchemy of gunpowder fused with the magic of sorcery. In a time of upheaval, resurgence and corrupted Royalty Privileged, one-man’s love for his lost wife and his country burns and fuels a new order where all can be treated equally.
Sometimes to build new you must burn the old.
Legends long hidden may rue the day when Old Gods return and Field Marshal Tamas’s coup against a failing, rotten and self-indulgent royalty balances on a knife edge. Tamas must rely on his friends and alienated son Taniel if his people and the Nine Nations are to survive.
Initially I was unsure concerning backdrop for the story, the French Revolution. This premise screams off the page and the mix of gunpowder, muskets and magic didn’t initially pique my appetite; thankfully I was wrong (it's surprising how often that happens). Gratefully, considering the Revolution theme we didn’t have to wade through pages of blood and beheadings, but the backdrop added well to the undertone for the narrative and the characters stories and motives are portrayed well because of it.
The story’s layers are evident from the opening page; McClellan builds out a vision of his world step by step, first slowly admittedly but soon picking up pace, and draws you into the lives of Tamas, Taniel and the Nine Nations. You begin to understand better and can appreciate the interactions in the world they inhabit.
McClellan’s magical world is divided into three main factions; the Privileged, the Powder Mages and the Knacked. This mix gives rise to some interesting encounters and abilities. The Privileged are sorcerers and have traditional normal sorcerer powers, Powder Mages fuel there abilities by ingesting gunpowder which increases there physical attributes greatly to superhuman limits and the Knacked can have any ability from physical or a magical talent, but are locked into that one talent only. Using this recipe McClellan really spiced it up between the three groups as part of their exchanges. Privileged have the power to can kill anyone, Powder Mages can kill Privileged and the Knacked are along for the ride.
The main character Tamas is initially comes across as a hard and chiselled personality but as you progress through the story you get that he is a committed man who is trying his best to do the right thing, which sometimes includes hard choices with hard outcomes. There is a realism and quality that I found appealing in Tamas.
There is a fairly meagre attempt at intrigue when Tamas survives an assassination attempt by someone in his trusted circle. The biggest problem for me was the character Adamat investigating this attempt didn’t actually give the reader any real detail, so there was no way to actually speculate whom the turncoat may be. Thankfully I didn't find it to be a major plot item so it can be somewhat excused. This can be considered the one weak link in an otherwise good plot and it did lead to a nice fight scene at the end of the story.
Ultimately some tried and trusted fantasy concepts make there way into the story; near immortal sorcerers who called down the original Gods.
Love, betrayal, swords, magic, muskets and Kresimir returned, there is trouble on the horizon for Tamas in book two. I will say this now, Tamas will die; he is going to sacrifice himself to the Kresimir to save the world or his son or both. I just can’t see another out outcome for him. Thankfully we are a while away from that, maybe I should say hopefully…
Fergus McCartan, 8.5/10: Recommended, you can almost smell the gunpowder and hear the guillotine falling.
I like my fantasy medieval. I always have, and I suspect I always will. It’s a hard habit to break, to be honest, and I much prefer my characters swinging swords, drawing bows, and charging an enemy line atop a horse. Put a car or a machine gun in your story, and you’re one step towards driving me away.
Which is why I’m so surprised that I liked ‘Promise of Blood’ so much.
Written by Brian McClellan, Promise of Blood introduces guns into my fantasy. To be fair, it’s a lot of musket and one-shot pistols, canon balls, and whatever else can be fired using copious amounts of gunpowder, but it’s still a technology I’m not normally fond of in my fantasy.
So to understand why I liked this book so much, I think we have to look a bit further.
The overall plot is fantastic, weaving together several characters’ viewpoints, skills, and faults, to create an utterly compelling and fascinating tapestry. Each character comes with their own misconceptions of the world, and strengths that help them drive past their faults and quirks. While the plot is at times helpfully contrived to reach a specific destination, this actually helps the story, creating a heightened tension for the reader as they wait for the expected to happen – more often than not, at entirely unexpected times.
While sensibly contained to one book, the story does allow for that anticipatory desire to keep reading, following the story into further and more interesting locations. The world surrounding our characters, and the history and mythology preceding them, all combine to create a whole that is utterly compelling.
The introduction and layout of the mythology/religion that drives this world is a tad familiar, but executed wonderfully. There is no confusion as to how the religion and its deities relate to the world and its people, as they just do, bypassing one of the tricky parts of including religion in your fantasy story.
Which makes the inclusion of the guns a non-issue – even more so considering the way that McClellan wove the introduction of guns and gunpowder into the world’s magic system. Some purists might wonder at the outset just why there are apparently three – and maybe more – types of magic. However, I’ve never been overly concerned about issues like that, given the inherent magic of … magic.
The use of gunpowder, the abilities the Powder Mage’s have, and the way that they conflict with other magic users, makes this story even more captivating. The overall concept of magic in Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage world is one that I cannot wait to return to, hopefully again and again. Add to that the overarching plot that has been set up, and my own tendency towards disliking monarchies, and Promise of Blood is a book I can easily recommend to anyone.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
Bee wrangler, homemade jam enthusiast and author of the widely successful flintlock fantasy series, The Powder Mage Trilogy; Brian McClellan has kindly taken the time to speak with Fantasy Book Review for the sites How Storie [...]
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