Book Review: Promise of Blood (Powder Mage #1)

For the past couple of years, I have listened to the fantastic Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan. It covers every major European, North, and South American revolution in glorious, intimate detail. I left those hundreds of episodes with one impression in particular: revolutions are hard. The American (and, after some flirting with imperialism, the French) case where bloody conflict results in lasting political and/or social change which actually improves the lives of everyday people is the exception, not the rule. Far more frequently the rebellion is crushed (as in the 1830’s Eastern European worker’s revolts), subsumed by backsliding and counter-revolution (English), or coopted by forceful figures or factions which twist the original spirit of the revolution into a naked power grab (Russian, Mexican, South American, Haitian). There is always change, and often progress in some spheres, but the end of the shooting war is invariably the beginning of a whole new set of troubles.

Promise of Blood picks up at the end of a successful anti-monarchy pro-republic revolution in a universe where early industrial revolution technology exists alongside ancient gods and magic. You can imagine the troubles the victors are in for.

The Basics:

Title: Promise of Blood (Powder Mage Trilogy #1)
Author: Brian McClellan
Genre: High fantasy, epic fantasy, war fiction, drama, intrigue, mystery
Published: Orbit, 2013

Spoiler-Free Summary:

PoB follows three figures in the turmoil following the king’s execution. Tamas, a powder mage, is the war hero who led the revolution, and finds himself unable (or, unwilling) to relinquish power in the days that follow. Enemies abroad are eager to invade his newly liberated Adro, to cut the budding republic off at the root. Within Adro, the members of the revolutionary coalition – the church, worker’s union, criminal underworld, and progressive nobles – turn on one another like starved dogs fighting over a scrap of meat. Tamas must be wary, cunning, and ruthless to not only guide his newborn nation through this upheaval… but to survive.

Taniel is Tamas’ son, and a powerful powder mage in his own right. His hunt for assassins and other shadowy enemies places him on a collision course with ancient secrets long forgotten and seldom believed. Taniel is surrounded by tense relationships. His connection with his father is far from paternal. His duties force him to work with his ex-fiancĂ©, and against his childhood friend.

Adamant is a retired veteran and a family man. A splash of magic grants him a perfect memory, which serves him well as a private investigator. Tamas commissions him to investigate first a cryptic prophecy, and later, enemies within the revolution. Adro’s power-brokers do not take kindly to a commoner knocking on their door asking pointed questions. Adamant stands his ground admirably against forces far beyond his limits.

McClellan masterfully weaves these threads together into a beautiful, bloody tapestry.

It’s a series…

Why You Will Love This Book:

I have said before that I am not the biggest fan of political intrigue. Give me personal stories over political ones, any day. However, PoB is intrigue done exceptionally well. Every faction feels alive and dangerous. McClellan expertly balances a full cast of characters who experience the conflict in drastically different ways, each with a distinct voice. That’s next-level, folks.

PoB is a twisty mystery shrouded in a black-powder cloud of action. There are many different magic systems in The Nine Nations. Knacked have a unique, specialized arcane power. They remind me of X-Men mutants. Powder Mages use gunpowder as a sort of super-soldier serum. Privileged train for years to control the elements. Nations beyond Adro wield distinct magic systems which challenge our Adran characters with their eldritch mysteries. When these powerful forces clash, the results are explosive.

One unique feature which stood out to me was the average age of the active characters. There is no shortage of spec. fic. following the adventures of teens and twenty-somethings. PoB’s world highlights figures with life experience and grit. The young dogs who surround them underestimate them at their own risk.

If you are into complex, nuanced stories rife with suspense, intrigue, and action, pick up Promise of Blood.

Where Can You Learn More?

I am very late to the McClellan train. Powder Mage is a whole franchise, at this point. Check it out.

Happy reading, folks.

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