Promise of Blood is a fantasy debut that shows epic promise. The action, plot, dialogue, pacing, and world-building are all top notch. McClellan’s full Powder Mage Trilogy makes good on that promise. The next chapter in the powder mage world opens tomorrow, March 7, with Sins of Empire, the first book in the Gods of Blood and Powder series. My review of Sins of Empire will be posted next Tuesday.
Promise of Blood opens as Field Marshal Tamas—the ranking military officer in Adom—completes a successful coup over the rightful, but dissolute, king. The coup is a success, but things get very interesting very quickly. A powerful female sorcerer escapes Tamas’ purge of the king’s cabal of sorcerers, those sorcerers die with an enigmatic warning on their lips, royalists remain, a traitor is in their midst, and a mysterious master chef arrives (yes, a chef). Tamas is joined as a main character with Adamat, a retired police inspector with a photographic memory, and Taniel, Tamas’ son and a powerful powder mage in his own right.
What is a powder mage? This is where Promise of Blood’s world-building gets interesting. Unlike most epic fantasy worlds, the world of the Nine (nations) has gun and gunpowder technology. It’s a 18th century-esque world where men have tired of kings and gods. Powder mages are a very special type of magic user—their magic consists entirely of manipulating gunpowder, whether using it to give themselves superhuman abilities, to angle a bullet around a wall, or to “float” a bullet two miles over a battlefield. “Privileged” are more traditional magic-users who manipulate the five elements (here, aether instead of spirit) using their fingers. “Knacked” have a single ability (one minor character never needs to sleep) and Taniel has a young companion with mysterious abilities.
Taniel and Adamat are usual character types—a young hotshot and a hard-bitten detective—done very well. Tamas is more interesting. Where fantasy heroes often start young and powerless, we are introduced to an older Tamas that at the opening chapter is at the height of his power. He comes into the story with deep scars already, and he’s as hard as an out-and-out hero gets.
Promise of Blood is not without its flaws. It wears the influence of Jordan, Sanderson, and Martin on its sleeve a little too openly at times. McClellan commits the twin world-building sins of giving us a world a little bit too generic Europe but loaded down with pointless invented terms nonetheless. The magic of the Privileged isn’t given quite enough development. A little over halfway through the book McClellan falls back on one of the lazier tropes in speculative fiction, a sequence that has bizarrely little effect on the rest of the story—something that probably should have been cut and replaced. The arc of a minor character is utterly uninterested, although it may be important to the rest of the trilogy. But these are just nits, and do little to take away from the book (hence it still gets a 5-star review).
The final verdict? Promise of Blood is a dang good book, McClellan is a bright new name in fantasy, and the Powder Mage is one of the more promising series to open in recent times. Oh, and the cover is beautiful.
5 of 5 Stars.