Backlist Burndown is a monthly meme hosted by Lisa from Tenacious Reader where you read one book from your backlist every month, then share your review of it the last Friday of that month. And, finally, I’ve gotten my reading (and reviews) into some semblance of order, so I can start participating in this great meme. This week I’m reviewing a book I loved when I read it several months ago.
Genre: Fantasy – Flintlock
Series: Powder Mage #1
Publisher: Orbit (April 16, 2013)
Length: 545 pages
My Rating: 5 stars
When this debut novel by Brian McClellan first hit shelves several years ago, it had loads of hype. Everyone seemed to be raving about how creative it was, how amazing the powder mages were, and how cool the whole flintlock fantasy setting was. And because of all that great word-of-mouth, I . . .stayed away from Promise of Blood like the plague.
Might sound strange, I know, but I did have a good reason: I never seem to like hyped books. Not sure why, but we do not ever seem to hit it off. So I decided to wait and see on the series.
Finally, though, I decided to take the plunge, and now I’m sorry I waited so long, because I absolutely loved this book!
Promise of Blood is a flintlock fantasy revelation. A splendid marriage of fantasy magic and French Revolution Era science. A place where guns and spells via for control. A world where deadly combat, explosive sorcery, godly intervention, political revolution, and personal tragedies rule the day. Simply put, this is damn good stuff here!
As the cover of the book declares, “The age of Kings is dead … and I have killed it.” And Promise of Blood begins with the coup led by Field Marshall Tamas succeeding. Now, though, the difficult part starts, as he tries to hold the diverse members of his rebellion together, gather additional allies, and put together a new government. All while trying to stave off war from Adro’s neighbors, whose royalists view Tamas’ actions as not only dangerous but blasphemy against the god Kresimir: He who legend says created the nine kingdoms, set up the rule of kings, and swore to destroy anyone who dared to disturb this divinely created system of rule .
Quickly, Mr. McClellan adds into this explosive mix Tamas’s returning son Taniel “Two Shot.” This prodigy and prodigal child having been in the “new world” fighting in a rebellion against the hated Kez. To say Taniel has “daddy” issues is putting it lightly; he is constantly craving and demanding respect, which his father seems unwilling or unable to give. When you add to this a certain addiction Taniel brings home with him, it gels into quite the wonderful plot, as Tamas and his son dance around one another throughout.
Then there is the mystery, because we have to have one really. A retired police inspector being drawn into the deathly political machinations of the nine kingdoms, as Field Marshall Tamas assigns him a task; one he doesn’t know if he is up to, especially when powerful figures from the underworld take notice.
There are so many great things about this novel, I really find it hard to only name one or two. Honestly, all the different aspects of the story blend together so well, so completely, it is difficult to separate them. They really belong together. Are part of a greater whole. Each supporting the other, making the story better for their inclusion. But since I always try to shine the spotlight on my favorite things about a book, I’ll give it my best attempt here too.
First, the flintlock fantasy setting, which is so similar to French Revolution Era Europe, sucked me in. Since I’m a huge history lover and consumer of alternate history fiction, it was probably inevitable that I would adore this world, but I have to give credit to Mr. McClellan’s brilliant world building. He did an amazing job molding Adro and its world into a doppleganger of real world France, then turned it on its head with powder mages, magical cabals, and gods. The place is absolutely amazing.
Second, those powder mages and their magical talent. I won’t bore everyone with my talk of how this is the most interesting magical system since Brandon Sanderson’s Allomancy, because I know everything about these super powered gunpowder snorters has already been said before. What I will ask is how none of us thought of such a simple yet freaking amazing idea?
Third, Mr. McClellan brought these characters to life. Each person had good and bad qualities; they would do amazing things before turning around and being petty or ridiculously judgmental. One minute, I’d wish for them to succeed, then I’d want them to fail. Yes, that includes Tamas or Taniel. Both of these guys had moments where I desperately wanted to slap some sense into them, lecture them on what idiots they were being. And that is when I knew all these people were now real to me, because those are exactly the type of reactions I have to real life people every day.
Lastly, I loved the shifting points of view. From Tamas to Taniel to all the others, Mr. McClellan kept me popping from one head to another, experiencing all the dramatic events through different eyes, from totally unique perspective; this bringing the whole rebellion into focus for me, allowing me to experience it outside of just Tamas’s narrow viewpoint, which made it much more epic in scope. Plus, I not only heard our main characters justifications for their behavior, but witness how they themselves truly behaved. Quickly, I was able to see them not as divinely inspired heroes, but as real people doing the best they could (and sometimes failing miserably) in dramatic and desperate circumstances.
As for any criticisms, they would all be personal dislikes of this character or that, this behavior or that, or this decision or that. Nothing related to Mr. McClellan’s writing at all, but rather my personal feelings regarding how I would like to believe I’d behave in similar circumstances and how my “heroes” did not live up to my expectations.
Not very often do I give five stars to novels as I have Promise of Blood. Perhaps it was merely a case of the right book at the right time for me, but I really believe it is more than that. Rather this debut novel by Brian McClellan reminds me of a house remodel. Here he has taken a standard fantasy story, stripped away the usual environment and classic elements (medieval Europe and whatnot) then rebuilt a flintlock fantasy upon its sturdy frame. Yeah, sure, underneath this is still an old school fantasy, but damn, it is so cool and fresh looking who would ever believe it isn’t brand new.