So you like fantasy, but you don’t think it has enough guns. Well then, I suggest you take a look at Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. It is the start of his debut trilogy the Powder Mage Trilogy and it’s full of muskets, mages and fantastical beasts. A good start for any author.
The book begins with a coup that overthrows the king, the people are poor and starving and he neither seems to care or notice. We immediately see a break here from the traditional epic fantasy of a young man going on a journey and to find his true destiny. The protagonists in this book have all seen combat previously, and only one of them is a young man, the other two are older and more experienced. This definitely makes a pleasant change from seeing some characters bumbling their way through the first parts of their stories only to miraculously scrape through fights with sheer luck. All of the characters that McClellan follows by no means breeze through their encounters but their previous experience means that we are thrown into a story that immediately has high stakes. This does mean that there is a fair amount of backstory to get through but there’s never any feeling of info-dumps and McClellan feeds you enough information to keep you tantalised.
Even with the high stakes that you’re thrown into at the start of the book McClellan still manages to keep the story from spiralling out of control and uses it to keep the pace fast and keep you stuck into the pages. The stakes for the story are consistently ramped up and it feels like if he wanted to McClellan could make the story from Promise of Blood into its own trilogy (this is how I felt when I read Game of Thrones and take your pick from any of the Malazan series). After finishing the crescendo for the piece you are left wondering where McClellan could possibly take the story to give it even more drama and tension but I am confident that he can and will do exactly that.
The characters themselves are well fleshed out, each with their own wants, needs, drives and pitfalls. The only character I would say who falls short of the rest of them was minor and he wasn’t explored fully, so I am curious to see where that character goes as he promises to get more time in the spotlight in the next book. McClellan presents us with a range of characters and we follow an inspector, the leader of the coup and a military captain.
Magic inside Promise of Blood is quite varied as McClellan shows us several kinds of magic present inside his world, ranging from traditional magic to those who have highly developed talents (whether or not they’re useful talents!). But McClellan uses them all in interesting ways and shows us how they interact and socialise together. I won’t go too much into it here but suffice to say it’s got an interesting system with a great deal of potential that becomes clear as the book goes on.
McClellan presents us with some interesting themes and it is a shame that he doesn’t explore them further. But I wonder whether this was due to constraints put on the book by the plot rather than McClellen being reticent about exploring them fully. What sticks out from this in my mind is the introduction of being ‘powder blind’; a term for men and women who use gunpowder to power their supernatural abilities but then get dependant upon gunpowder. The adverse effects of being ‘powder blind’ are hinted at numerous times within the book but I don’t feel as though McClellan developed this as much as he could have. But that is sometimes the price we pay in reading a series we know will be a trilogy. I strongly suspect that this theme will be dealt with more thoroughly in the latter books of the series.
You don’t have to look very hard to see influences of other works from the genre at play in McClellan’s. But for all those elements that you might feel have been done before, McClellan presents them very well and gives us more than enough original ideas to really bring his book together. In some ways this eases us into his world as we see features that we can recognise and use those to balance ourselves as we find our way around the book.
In short the book is well written, the characters are well fleshed out and the story explodes from the start and grows like a rolling snowball as you go on. The setting and feel of the book are very consistent and although the setting isn’t the biggest, but it has plenty of room for expansion, if you couple this with the story it’s definitely big enough to rank itself comfortably among any other epic fantasy. Although there are clearly some elements which McClellan has taken from traditional fantasy, there are many others which he has created and run with that set him apart. This means that if you read Promise of Blood you will find yourself reading an exciting and interesting book that breaks away from traditional fantasy whilst still brings back elements from the genre that we know and love. I would definitely recommend giving this book a read as it’s an interesting break from normal fantasy fare, and McClellan writes an intriguing and exciting story.
Well, I hope that you’ve found that useful! It was definitely a book I enjoyed so I hope that I’ve convinced you to enjoy it too!
That’s it for this blog post so I shall see you next time!
Good hunting wordsmiths!