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.
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…
In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?
“The age of kings is dead, Adamat, and I have killed it.”
Thus ends the first chapter of one of the best books I have read all year. I love when either the prologue or first chapter really hooks me and draws me into the world. Brian McClellan’s first entry in the Powder Mage Trilogy did just that.
This was one of my first forays into the flintlock fantasy subgenre (the other being the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, full review for The Black Prism here) and I was not disappointed. There were basically three main magic systems in Promise of Blood. The magic of Powder Mages where they can control bullets and black powder, the magic of Privileged sorcerers where they can control and unleash elements, and the magic of the “Savages” from another land that we don’t know too much about yet. My favorite of the three was definitely the Powder Mages’ magic because of its uniqueness. Not only that, but the way that it can be used in battle made for some incredibly exciting and imaginative action scenes.
I also really enjoyed the limitations that were put on each magic system. There were limits to each one that kept the magic users from feeling overpowered. Whoever was the best was not simply the best because of their magical talent, but because they used their more mundane human qualities of intelligence, hard work, and cunning to be the very best. There were also specific vulnerabilities to both Powder Mages and Priviliged sorcerers that brought them more down to Earth.
“The world is changing. People do not exist to serve their governments or their kings. Governments exist to serve the people, so the people should have a say in those governments.”
I really enjoyed each of the three POV’s that were presented. Tamas, Taniel, and Adamat were all compelling protagonists. I also thought they all had very good character development, but where this really shines is with Tamas, my favorite of the three. Tamas is somewhat of a mysterious, imposing figure after the coup at the beginning, but throughout this story we get glimpses of the man behind the Field Marshal facade. A man with friends, a tragic history, and motivations that make sense the more you get through the story. I am intrigued to get to know him, as well as Taniel and Adamat, a lot more in the next two books.
I wouldn’t say that this book is fast paced. In fact, it started out a bit slower paced and continued to work its way up throughout the story. Sometimes for me that can be a negative, but in this one I didn’t mind at all. After the coup, we see things calm down a bit (as much as things can “calm down” after a coup) and we get to know the world through the eyes of our three main protagonists. Brian McClellan did an excellent job of showing, not telling most of this information and I think did a huge service to the story by doing this. Even though the plot was slow to get moving at first, I never felt bored because I was getting to know the characters, the unique magic system of the powder mages, and the world itself.
This book was a slow burn at first that raced to an explosive, powder keg (pun intended) of an ending for the last 150 pages. What an ending! If you are looking to try out Flintlock fantasy I think this is about as good a starting point as you can get. With amazingly realized action sequences, a unique magic system that has become one of my favorites, interesting characters, and a plot that will keep you in suspense and wanting more after you’ve finished, Promise of Blood is an excellent start to the Powder Mage Trilogy.