War Cry by Brian McClellan

There is something tremendously enjoyable about short stories and novellas. They give you a chance to jump in, feet first, right into the deep end, of a world familiar or new, meet new people, and then jump right out again. For many, this is a problem – they would rather a 17-book series with 12 more to follow. There isn’t a problem with that, but it’s not necessarily all that common.

Brian McClellan, author of The Powder Mage Trilogy and the new Gods of Blood and Powder Trilogy, has long been writing novellas to better populate his powder-mage universe (there are at least 11, that I am currently aware of). I’ve read a few, but not all, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.

Published in late-August, McClellan finally stepped outside his powder-mage universe with the novella War Cry. McClellan describes the book as a “fantasy world with WWII-type technology in which army rangers fight an endless war against shapeshifters and illusionists on the high plains” and says it (literally) came to him in a dream.

’ll admit, I never got a WWII-style from War Cry – it felt to me as if it had a near-future reality to it, but one where the technology hadn’t moved too far forward. The book ramps up slowly, in a way – which is to say, it’s fantasy hook is not immediately apparent, and we only get to see it in action once or twice before the book really gets going.

Unlike, say, a Brandon Sanderson novella – which is hyper-focused on building up three-dimensional characters in a short amount of time – McClellan uses his characters more as part of the world in which they live; they are not given a tremendous amount of time for introspection or character development, arriving fully-formed onto the page.

What captivates the reader, however, is the world in which they live and the challenges they must face and overcome. This is not a slight against the author, rather, I quite enjoyed having fully-formed characters at my fingertips from the get-go, and it heightened the intensity of the central storyline. I was even quite taken aback by the casual disregard for lives on display – both in the moment, and as explained by one of the minor protagonists towards the end of the book. It had that sense of Glen Cook realism – a kill your darlings’ mentality – without appearing as if the author had written it solely to show he could unfeelingly kill his characters. Walking that line is tricky, and not everyone does it well – not even Glen Cook, in my opinion. McClellan does well, even if I was disappointed amidst the story.

The combination of fantastical and magical with the technological was well done – not in your face, nor hidden to the point of inconsequence; rather, it was simply told as if this is the way things are, nothing more, nothing less. The interactions, the social hierarchy – almost non-existent on the battlefield, but always hovering on the side-lines – and the desperation as told through the eyes of Teado, a Changer, is at times mesmerising.

War Cry might herald a new universe for McClellan to play in – and I certainly hope that it does – but it might also be a one-off that we never hear from again. Regardless, War Cry is crackling with McClellan’s trademark craft and captivating prose, a high-watermark of short fantasy literature.

8/10 War Cry is crackling with McClellan’s trademark craft and captivating prose

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