Promise Of Blood – the first book of his ‘powder mage’ trilogy – rumbles away with considerable pomp and bluster. It’s a shamelessly over-the-top blood and thunder affair, all bayonets, flintlocks and, er, mages.
It’s a bit like Sharpe if Sean Bean could throw magic about at all and sundry, which is a wonderful thought. Anyway, Brian McClellan’s debut is a lot of fun, a historically influenced fantastical romp filled with machismo, intrigue and magic.
The protagonist is Field Marshall Tamas, who’s staged a coup and dethroned the oppressive monarch of the fictional Kingdom of Ardo. It’s all smiles and excitement, the prospect of a new start (a bit like when New Labour came in), but alas, the old axiom ‘be careful what you wish for’ begins to ring true, as the coup brings with it a whole litany of new, and probably even greater problems, such as the wrath of other kingdoms, loyalists attempting to bring things down from within and corrupt, self-serving beurocratic types aiming to take advantage of all the newly caused turmoil and line their pockets. There’s even the threat of a curse from a God looming overhead, thanks to his king slaying actions.
In another plot strand, Captain Taniel, a powder mage that can manipulate gunpowder to lethal extent, has to protect Tamas, his father, from all manners of sorcerous danger. Another strand involves another ally of Tamas, a retired Inspector named Adamat, who scopes out the cities and streets for Tamas, as well as facing his own personal challenges. Naturally Adamat’s adventures enable a good bit of scene setting and world building by McClellan. Each character arc intertwines and culminates in a cliffhanger conclusion that’s as pleasingly ostentatious as they come.
McClellan’s work is reminiscent of authors like Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson, who also create tales that splice recognisable history with supernatural elements. It’s not hard to spot parallels and allusions to the French Revolution, all tales of spoiled aristocrats getting guillotined after leaving nothing for the general populous. It begins right in the midst of the coup, so things are immediately set at a high pace. It’s to McClellan’s credit that this pace is maintained, as each character squares off against their respective trials and tribulations. Characters are flawed, well rounded and battle hardened, and McClellan skilfully wraps things up, while clearly setting things up for the future.
McClellan clearly has big plans for his Powder Mage trilogy, and already has the front cover for the sequel ‘The Crimson Campaign’ sorted out (featuring the same middle aged rugged soldier type looking attractively vacant yet steely at the same time). The whole thing’s obviously heading somewhere cataclysmic, and should he maintain the standard on display in Promise of Blood, it can only be good news for all involved.
It’s a dashing romp, one that takes itself seriously, but not enough to render it a joyless husk of a book, as it revels in its own over the top bluster.