Genre: Fantasy – Flintlock
Series: Gods of Blood and Powder #1
Publisher: Orbit (March 7, 2017)
Length: 624 pages
My Rating: 5 stars
Flintlock fans! Powder pundits–
And all lovers of spellbinding stories of magic and mayhem:
Today, today, you are redeemed from boredom,
Set free from the doldrums of reading despair.
For that most adroit of authors, Brian of McClellan,
Has fired off the opening salvo of another fantasy series.
Challenged all comers to brave his newest creation.
From the beginning, Sins of Empire is a dazzling delight,
Spun from the same enchanted stuff as The Powder Mage Trilogy,
Set in a new local, overflowing with compelling characters,
And filled with excitement, and action aplenty.
Every page a challenge, every plot a delectable morsel.
Yet for all its untouched virgin splendor,
Sins of Empire does not forget its powder mage progenitor.
Old characters reappearing from the beginning,
Entangled in new webs of manipulation and mystery
But just as beloved and enthralling as ever.
But this time the way forward is fraught with more peril, more uncertainty,
For there is no bold Tamas to lead the way.
Our heroes older, tasked with control, and forced to rise to the occasion.
Their wits tested by the web of deceit they must untangle,
The formidable forces they must face down.
And so, without any further grandiose pretensions by myself,
I give to you the Opening Book of Excellence,
The Bequeather of Beloved Characters,
The Proverbial Powder Mage Progeny
The One –
The Only –
Sins of Empire!
Beginning approximately ten years after the events in The Autumn Republic, Sins of Empire is set upon a new continent and built upon the back of the Fatrastan Revolution (as so wonderfully portrayed in the novella Ghosts of the Tristan Basin). The young nation having quickly become an economic power, guided toward the future by the authority regime of Chancellor Lindet and her secret police, aptly dubbed the Blackhats.
But things are not quite as rosy as they seem. A growing rift between the native Palo tribesmen and the Fatrastan colonists brewing into near rebellion. A mysterious leader, known only as Mama Palo, controlling the simmering insurrection, who, supposedly, is hiding in the dangerous confines of the Palo slums of the capital city of Landfall; a place where even the feared Blackhats are not welcomed. Enter the Riflejack mercenaries.
Commanded by Vlora a.k.a. Lady Flint (a name familiar to fans of the original Powder Mage Trilogy), these crack troops find themselves in the employ of Chancellor Lindet, battling Palo rebels in the hinterlands of the continent until they are recalled to the capital. All hell about to break loose there; Lady Flint’s tasked with hunting down Mama Palo. A mission that the one time revolutionary Vlora finds unpalatable.
Unwillingly wrapped up in this same situation is a high level Blackhat named Michel Bravis; his assignment to be the Riflejack handler as cover for his real job of rooting out a revolutionary cell which is distributing anti-government pamphlets. This task made more compelling by his superior’s brutal reputation of rewarding failure with death or lose of status, the latter nearly worse than the former to a Blackhat.
Then there is Mad Ben Styke, commander of the Mad Lancers, hero of the Fatrastan Revolution, proudly named one of the founders of the country . . . now a convicted war criminal. This giant of a man having spent the last ten years of his life in a harsh labor camp after surviving execution by firing squad. But, when it seems he has no hope left, a mysterious lawyer appears, promising freedom in exchange for the completion of a simple task.
And looming mysteriously over them all is the legendary Godstone. An unwitting professor having unearthed it in the lands around Landfall. Its power without doubt; its importance overwhelming; it’s part of the story revealed only gradually.
Shifting back and forth between Vlora, Michel Bravis, and Ben Styke, Brian McClellan slowly builds this narrative, very carefully by creatively re-introducing the powder mage world, its magic, and its returning characters; the steady pace giving new readers time to acclimate themselves while still quickly immersing them in an intriguing set of plots. All of it driven forward by the unique, compelling, and jaded characters. The returning veterans of the series initially shining the brightest before being eclipsed (at least, in my eyes) by one of the newcomers.
The person I am referring to is Mad Ben Styke. This hulking killer of a man already garnering my immediate attention because of his portrayal in Ghosts of the Tristan Basin (which fans of the Powder Mage series need to read). Here he is a much more well-rounded character, showing serious complexity for his nature, unexpected tenderness and compassion, as well as unbridled viciousness when necessary. Can’t wait to see where Brian McClellan takes him from this beginning.
Coming in a close second to Mad Ben is Vlora a.k.a. Lady Flint, whom I admit was never a favorite of mine in the original trilogy. (No, she did not have a fair chance to shine back then, since she was forever labeled due to her actions toward her fiance, but be that as it may, she wasn’t very interesting either.) Now, however, she is a much more well-rounded character; her drive, her stubbornness, and her abilities better understood and explored.
And last but not least is Michel Bravis, who I found quite odd at first (He was constantly having conversations and arguments with himself out loud.), but whose development and interesting plot turned him into far more than merely a carbon copy of Inspector Adamant.
I will also add there is a surprise character in the mix whom I really enjoyed, but will not talk about further. This individual gradually assuming a central role in the story, and I dearly hope this person does not disappear in the sequels.
That brings up the other triumph of Sins of Empire: the suspense and revelations. No one and nothing is what it appears here. Brian McClellan pulling the rug out from under his readers time after time. Each seeming revelations suspect, as yet another piece of the puzzle falls into place. Certainly, there were a few surprises which I guessed, but, overall, the author kept me glued to the pages, as he stunned me with momentous revelations after momentous revelation. Each building toward the epic conclusion at the end.
And what a conclusion it is. No powder mage novel would be complete without some rousing battle scenes, because Brian McClellan is so gifted at choreographing them, writing them in a coherent way, that they have become trademarks of his books. And the last few chapters of Sins of Empire are dominated by familiar, flintlock fighting and more than a little powder mage magic. It is cool, satisfying, and fun beyond measure.
As for criticisms . . . Are you really asking me that? I mean, how often do I give a book 5 stars? You know it isn’t very often. And this book got 5 stars, so that means the criticisms I have are so minuscule as to be non-existent.
With a fast paced narrative, compelling characters, a cool magic system, a diverse world and an epic conclusion, Sins of Empire is a flintlock fantasy completed to perfection. This novel showcasing the silky smooth talent of Brian McClellan in crafting an epic fantasy which long time fans and new comers can both enjoy and love. Without a doubt, it is my frontrunner for Best Fantasy of 2017, start of a new series which will certainly surpass the original if this opening installment is any harbinger of things to come. Highly recommended!