Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Posted by DarkChaplain at 7/23/2014
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.
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...
I have been intrigued by Promise of Blood ever since I saw the cover art. It was far from the typical fantasy style, showing a character more based in a real historical era, which I very much appreciate. The quotes about overthrowing the monarchy sealed the deal that I had to check this out.
The Story:
"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.
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? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan."

The Review
I went in expecting a revolution of sorts, a coup d'├ętat, combined with court intrigue and civil war. Promise of Blood explored all of these things, and much more on top. Industry, worker unions, external pressure, even family relations and grief - and of course magic - played a role in this novel, and I loved it.

From the first chapter on, I was caught up in a scenario bigger than a single novel could encompass, so I am glad this was planned as a trilogy - with more short stories, novellas and further novels to expand the setting. The setting was very nicely described and explained throughout the book, and while there are still a lot of questions, mysteries and unknown factors, I never felt lost in this fantasy world. It felt coherent, logical and realistic, with lots of promise.

Despite the sheer scale of the conflict, however, the point of view characters, Field Marshal Tamas, his estranged son Taniel and inspector Adamat, along with a very strong cast of supporting figures, did a hell of a job getting the reader into the nitty-gritty of the revolution.

Tamas, as the de facto leader of the coup, presented the hardships of keeping the country of Adro together and the people satisfied, balancing personal feelings of vengeance with the population's needs. He is also the man in charge of the army, and has to make difficult decisions throughout the novel, putting himself into danger for what he believes is right. He is a hard man with an adamant will, but that is not all there is to this very compelling main character.

His son Taniel, in contrast, is full of doubt. His problems pile up to high heaven, ranging from his relationships with various characters to disdain for his own father, and drug problems. He still is a strong character the reader wants to see succeed and overcome his troubles.

While Tamas and Taniel don't share all that much time together in the book, the scenes they do interact in all have a certain amount of power, and their dynamic as father and son casts shadows up until the epilogue. While the story certainly is about revolution and the fall of the monarchy, it does not forget the human factor at any point.

Lastly, inspector Adamat offers more in-depth looks into the workings of the new council. His job is to root out a traitor among their midst, which gets him into danger on various occassions. It also serves to elaborate on the country's inner workings and politics. His plotline feels very much like a detective story, and a strong one at that. It opens questions and gives answers in equal measure, feeding the reader more and more information about the setting.
Adamat is the most important link between plotlines and characters, but he also shoulders his own history and troubles.

The supernatural aspects of the story, mainly mythology, religious aspects and magic, were all handled well. There was one concept I wasn't so sure about when it appeared, but by the end of the story, I was in love with it, and now cannot wait to see what is going to happen next on that front. Most importantly, the supernatural side is consistent in itself, and while not fully explored yet, the reader gets a solid understanding of the basic rules.

Magic in the Powder Mage world is a complex topic. Firstly, there are two basic major types of mages that are in conflict with each other, prejudices and all: The title-giving Powder Mages and the Privileged.
Then there are the knacked, which happen to possess strange, abnormal traits, like the inability to forget things, or not needing sleep.

Where the privileged can be seen as your usual magic users with their elemental spells and powers that defy comprehension, powder mages draw their powers from gunpowder, manipulate bullets mid-flight, and consume black powder to enhance their own physical abilities for a time. Both types possess the third eye, which allows them to recognize magic in the world, if they actively open it.
Both sides also have their individual weaknesses and requirements for their magic to work - which I will not elaborate on.

Seeing that conflict exists not only on a political level, but also between beliefs, magic users and families, made me happy as a reader. It served to keep every aspect of the book interesting, and opened the doors to conflicts of interest on various occassions.
It also made it very clear how difficult it is for Tamas to stay in control of the situation, and put pressure on him, as a powder mage, father and military genius with a relatively short temper - which is sorely tested when the rival country of Kez gets involved.

The novel stayed tense from start to finish, a powder keg ready to explode at any time, and for that I personally thank Brian McClellan.
The alternating points of view served the story very well, keeping me, as the reader, second guessing and expanding my own knowledge at a satisfying pace. I actually cared about the characters and their friends. I shared Taniel's confusion, Adamat's fear for his family, Tamas's hatred for the murderer of his wife, and his ambition of raising his home country beyond the need for petty monarchs.

Promise of Blood kept me up at night. The book kept me hoping for the best, while fearing for the worst. It was a thoroughly exciting experience, which I will be sure to expand on by reading the sequels and spin-off stories. It opens up a fantastic new, imaginative world full of promise for not just blood, but also greatness.

Promise of Blood is an amazing debut novel, and you would be foolish not to give it a try.


I have already started on The Crimson Campaign, as a matter of fact, and read most of the short stories, which deepened my understanding of setting and characters greatly. I recommend giving all of the Powder Mage stories a try. You will not regret it.
Promise of Blood on Goodreads

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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