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Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage 1)

By: Brian McClellan

Release Date: April 16, 2013

Rating: 4 Stars

Summary: 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…


If there’s one quote in Promise of Blood that just catches the eye, it’s this: “The Age of Kings is dead… and I have killed it.” The speaker? Field Marshall Tamas of Adro, having just overthrown Adro’s Royal Cabal, the sorcerers who form the real power behind the throne. Yet for all of Tamas’s bluster, destroying the monarchy is only one of the many interweaving plot threads in this surprisingly enjoyable fantasy, because the real promise of Brian McClellan’s debut, it seems, is revolution, yes against a king as expected, but also against the kinds of magic that seems to pervade traditional fantasy.

How? McClellan takes a world with shades of the French Revolution and makes it his own. There’s the old aristocracy dominated by a king and a corrupt nobility, and beneath the gilt of tradition a challenge to the old order in the form of rising discontent among the urban poor, the new rich, and the unions, all empowered by the advent of industrialization. If I wasn’t constantly reminded that I was reading a fantasy, I’m sure this could very well moonlight as a discussion of the root causes of the revolutions in nineteenth century Europe. What McClellan adds to the mix though, is another conflict, a conflict between two adversarial schools of magic representing the same forces ushering in Tamas’s actual revolution, old versus new, tradition versus technology, aristocracy versus industrialization, with the Privileged, old school sorcerers wielding fireballs and lightning as the traditionalists, and the Powder Mages whose magical abilities all seem to come from gunpowder on the side of industrialization. Needless to say, the two groups don’t like each other at all; Powder Mages, including Tamas’s wife, are hunted down and killed in some of Adro’s less industrialized neighbors, and it’s this backdrop of revolution and steampunk versus traditional magic that gives Promise of Blood such a unique spin on the fantasy genre, even on the revolution premise.

Although, as Tamas discovers, the fires of revolution, once stoked, aren’t so easily checked. Another thing about Promise of Blood is that the plot, like a revolutionary fervor spreading from smoldering fire to tinderbox unnoticed while everyone’s distracted by the twenty other blazes, is kind of all over the place. There’s Adamat, a retired police inspector with problems with Adro’s criminal underworld investigating the dying words of the Royal Cabal sorcerers, “‘you can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.” There’s Tamas’s son Taniel fighting off an invasion from neighboring Kez while questioning his loyalties to his father and his friendship with his childhood friend Bo, the last surviving member of the Royal Cabal. There’s a girl named Nila who doesn’t appear to do much of anything. Yet as a whole, I appreciate McClellan taking the story organically from one plot thread in front of royalist barricades in Adopest to the next involving Kez agents gunning for Tamas, with many of the twists and turns unfurling like clues in Adamat’s investigation and all without stretching anything out – Kresimir’s Promise is revealed early on and then it’s on to other things culminating in an ending actually involving Kresimir – in a way that keeps everyone just so busy yet interconnected and the world feeling fully fleshed out and intensely interesting.

I do think though certain parts of the book could have used a bit more polish. The first chapter almost lost me with the way every sentence seems to begin with Adamat’s name followed by a verb, or occasionally he plus a verb, but the writing does seem to improve as I read on – either that or the book somehow becomes so engrossing as the plot progressed I stopped noticing. There are some uncomfortable transitions between the multiple points of view, for example Adamat goes to a library in a nearby university town to research Kresimir’s Promise and then returns to the city on the same day planning to find out more at the city library, we switch to Tamas’s point of view as the royalists set up barricades in the city over the next two days, and then back to Adamat and he hasn’t managed to get into the library yet – huh? And also some inconsistent characterizations, like Lady Winceslav who’s supposed to be the leader of the Wings of Adom, a hardcore mercenary group, and yet she faints in the middle of the executions – I think McClellan might’ve gotten a little carried away with the theatrics there. Still, these little things couldn’t really hamper my enjoyment of a book that covers a lot of ground but always manages to stick close to its premise of traditionalist magics versus Powder Mages.

Besides a few minor issues with polish, I have to say Promise of Blood is a very enjoyable read. Brian McClellan takes the revolution theme and just goes with it, adding some very interesting perspectives on magic, and even if by the end there’s very little to do with sending a king to the guillotine, I absolutely enjoyed the direction he seems to be taking with the series.

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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