Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Finest Flintlock Fantasy

Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage, #1)Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of a bloody coup against the monarchy, Field Marshal Tamas struggles to hold the country together while trying to figure out who among his trusted allies is a traitor. Meanwhile, his estranged son goes into the mountains to kill a friend and stumbles upon a plot to summon a god...

As I've said in other reviews, there are certain times when a reader stumbles upon a book that hits all the sweet spots. For me, one of those special books was Promise of Blood.

I've read a fair amount of fantasy over the years but I find myself tiring of quest stories set in worlds resembling medieval Europe, frequently with a heaping helping of medieval stasis thrown in. A lot of fantasy seems to be rehashes and brings very little new to the party. Not only does Promise of Blood bring a lot of new things to the party, it brings the party with it.

The book opens with Tamas making an effort to finish the coup and clean up his mess. Meanwhile, his son Taniel returns from foreign lands with a big reputation and a chip on his shoulder. Things are quickly ratcheted up a notch and things never let up.

The setting is similar to the era of the French revolution, complete with gun powder and guillotines. That was enough to interest me, along with the tagline "The Age of Kings is dead and I have killed it," which hints at how innovative this book is compared to most fantasy on the racks. Throw in the magic system and I didn't stand a chance.

In addition to the Privileged, the usual wizardly types, we have the Knacked, who have one or two small magical talents, and the Marked, who are a bit more powerful and possessed of a mystical third eye. Some of the Marked become Powder Mages, spellcasters who can use gun powder to do some pretty cool things.

Another thing that kept me reading well into the wee hours was the shifting points of view, from Tamas to his son Taniel to Adamat, the investigator Tamas tasked with finding the traitor, who happens to have some secrets as well.

The characters are an interesting mix, from Tamas with his stubborn streak to Adamat and his conflict over his duty vs. his family, to Taniel and his growing powder addiction. Taniel Two-Shot snorting lines of gun powder and the resulting nosebleeds will stick with me for a while.

It's quite a bit more complicated than my summary has indicated. This is one book I wouldn't want to spoil for anyone. It has everything I look for in a fantasy novel: grit, action, intrigue, surprises, and new ideas rather than rehashing old ones. Five powder-burned stars! Now if I could just snag an ARC of the sequel...

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