The Crimson Campaign is the second in the Powder Mage Trilogy and much like The Promise of Blood, it is simply fantastic. Gods, overt and introvert, magic, a struggle for survival and desire for revenge, bundled up across three main story arcs.
In the first, Tamas struggles to survive after a massive defeat at the hands of the Kez, trapped behind enemy lines, he and his men travel the long way home, harassed and hurried at every point. In this journey we get to see a lot of Tamas's inner personality coming through, his commitment, conviction and his dedication to the cause, all of which is written by Brian McClellan with passion and flare. We are even given a deeper insight into the reasons behind Tamas starting the revolution, it's not a large revelation, but definitely something that helps round out the character.
Taniel's initial story centers around his recovery after the events on South Pike Mountain and his attempted assassination of Kresimir. Lost in a haze of drugs, the consequence of trying to suppress the memory of killing a God, Taniel''s mental defenses are shattered, but slowly he recovers with the help of Ka-poel (Pole). Later, as Taniel makes his way to the war front we are delivered an ever-increasing level of frustration as obstacle after obstacle is thrown in his path, some by allies and some by enemies. This particular element was an interesting read, as I could feel the aggravation and irritation coming off the page from the character. It even set me on edge, and any book and author that can accomplish this level of immersion deserves all the accolades they get. There is a lot more coming for this character (and a lot has already happened) thanks to the protection and spells that Pole has woven around him.
-- Speculation --
This advanced state of Powder Mage is one of the circumstances in which I believe Tamas will die. I sense Taniel will go up against something he cannot handle, even with his new abilities and Tamas will need to sacrifice himself to save him and Adro.
-- Speculation End --
Finally, we have Adamat and the search for his wife and son. This is actually my favourite storyline from the book, it plays on all the key emotions of the reader, fear hope, angry and happiness. It definitely had the most variety in plots elements in my opinion. The character is smart, capable and willing to take action and inaction when necessary to achieve the end result. There is a common man feel to his personality and persona, a view of right, wrong and practicality I really enjoy. I could easily see Adamat having his own full length novel in the future, building on his early years and career such as in Murder at the Kinnen Hotel. Across the two main books, his role and interactions have been largely separate from Tamas and Taniel's, but I am hoping in The Autumn Republic we get more of a crossover of plots between the three.
Sometimes in split view novels like this, one or two stories shine greater than the others and the reader (yes, I do this) rushes through some of the less fulfilling sections of the book in order to get back to their favourite, but in The Crimson Campaign none of this is present. Each storyline is as engaging as the next and you savour each word, paragraph and chapter as revelations, betrayal and death lead the characters down a long and sometimes crooked path.
The few negatives I did have concerned the nature of the telling and certain issues with the Taniels interactions with the army after Tamas's presumed death. I said it earlier, but I would have liked a little more crossover between the three characters, but considering the plot for each one of the them, it would not have been really feasible. One aspect of this view was I could imagine The Crimson Campaign easily being read as three separate novella's set around the same events, however his doesn’t take away from the novel or my enjoyment of it. Secondly, I did think the discovery and betrayal of Taniel inside his own army feels a little off. It comes across like the entire Adro command structure just fell to infighting and power mongering without Tamas, regardless of the actions of the traitor in their midst. Considering these characters all stood with Tamas during his initial revolution in Promise of Blood, it was just hard to see how this Taniel plot aspect came about so quickly. This was not a major concern but something that did niggle at the back of my mind.
-- Contains Spoilers --
My Autumn Republic speculation and predictions.
-- End Spoilers --
Fergus McCartan, 9/10
I have reviewed hundreds of books, from a variety of authors, in a variety of genres, from standalones to ten-book epics, and I have discovered one factor that remains constant – sequels, whether planned or unexpected, are the hardest books to write. Some have nailed it, others have squandered the opportunity, but all have had to work very hard to make it work at all.
Brian McClellan stepped onto the fantasy scene with some acclaim, receiving pull quotes from Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett that other authors would give their brother’s left arm for (or is that just me?). Earlier this year (coming late to the party, as usual) I gave Brian McClellan’s debut novel ‘Promise of Blood’ 8 out of 10.
Enter the sequel, ‘The Crimson Campaign’, the second book in ‘The Powder Mage trilogy’.
Set a month or so after the conclusion of Promise of Blood, this second book picks up the story and runs headlong into battle, paying very little heed to whether you followed along or not. Sometimes this doesn’t work, leaving the readers flailing around for context, but McClellan managed to not only pull the reader along in the first few frantic chapters, but reminded us clearly who each of his characters were, where they were at and what had happened, all without having to info-dump us into oblivion.
And then, suddenly, everything has turned on its head. Thousands are caught behind enemy lines, there’s mischief afoot in camp, and the capital city is a powder keg – almost literally, in this world of muskets and magic.
About a half of the way through the book, however, things start to drag a little. McClellan starts to rely on some lazy writing to force his story in the direction he had hoped it would run, and the whole story sort of tails off to an unexpected conclusion. While the first half of the book started strongly and really had me excited, the conclusion left me feeling as if the whole point of this book was simply to get to book 3. There were several plots that were only half-heartedly touched upon, leaving the reader feeling as if this was just a stopover.
Some authors know just how to pace a story – which includes pacing each of the subsequent plot lines within that larger story. Other authors are just beginning, and need a little bit of time to work out how to string together multiple plot points. Brian McClellan is in no way lacking as an author, but it is obvious he is just starting out – finding his footing, so to speak. His ability to write fights and battles, characters, and world-building is wonderful, and leaves you truly wanting more. His pacing leaves a little to be desired, but I have no doubt – given his pedigree and influences – that he’ll be wowing us for years to come.
The Crimson Campaign is a fine addition to the Powder Mage Trilogy, though it might leave you wanting a little by the time you finish.
Joshua S Hill, 7/10
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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