Brian McClellan is one of my favorite fantasy authors to hit the scene in the past decade. His Powder Mage trilogy is the epitome of Flintlock Fantasy, as far as I am concerned. McClellan has written and self-published a good bit of short fiction set in the Powder Mage world. In the Field Marshal’s Shadow collects his shorter works. It doesn’t compare to his novels, but it is better than the average for this sort of thing, and I’ve seen several people say McClellan’s short fiction really enhances their appreciation of the novels by better drawing motivations of some of the characters from the novels.
Hope’s End, like The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, is a short story set in the same world as Promise of Blood and taking place before the events of that novel. Also like The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, Hope’s End features a female hero (McClellan obviously noticed one particular criticism of Promise of Blood). It’s written to be accessible to a reader who hasn’t read Promise of Blood, but they probably won’t appreciate it nearly as much. Tamas plays a prominent role (again, like The Girl of Hrusch Avenue), and we get perhaps our best window yet into Tamas’ motivations for his actions at the beginning of Promise of Blood.
Hope’s End has a lot going for it. It has a great backdrop: the first wave charging into a breach in an era when muskets made that a suicide mission. The setup is careful, the conflict has clear consequences, and the action sequence is to McClellan’s usual high standards. Unfortunately, I found the end a little too pat for a short story, which needs to be high on its impact to word count ratio.
4 of 5 Stars.
The Girl of Hrusch Avenue
Brian McClellan’s debut novel, Promise of Blood, shows epic promise. One of the most well targeted complaints against it, however, is that the female characters are poorly drawn and tangential to the main story. This includes Vlora, who exists in Promise of Blood primarily to set up Taniel’s story and create conflict between him and his father, Tamas.
The Girl of Hrusch Avenue is a short story set in the same world and featuring the same characters as Promise of Blood. We learn about Vlora, seeing her as an orphan child: who she is, some of why she is that way, and how she came to meet Taniel and Tamas. There was so much conflict among the three in Promise of Blood. Here we see why they initially took to each other.
It’s the sort of thing a fan of Promise of Blood will love, a weak salve for the ache for The Crimson Campaign, book 2 in the Powder Mage trilogy. But it’s very limited as a short story in and of itself, neither a Thinker nor a Twister in my own taxonomy, just supplemental to the larger story.
4 of 5 Stars.
Tamas takes revenge on a woman who wronged him. My least favorite of the five stories.
3 of 5 Stars.
The Face in the Window
The story from before the Powder Mage trilogy that I most wanted to hear was about Fatrasta and how Taniel met Ka-Poel (the opening book in McClellan’s new trilogy, Sins of Empire, takes place in Fatrasta). The Face in the Window is the first book in the collection without Tamas in it (though he looms large over it), and it is the better for it. Of all the stories, this one would have benefited from being longer.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Return to Honor
Vlora returns for Return to Honor. It takes place between Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign. Vlora is still trying to get out from under her betrayal of a war hero and the dishonor it brought. This story is much better after having read Sins of Empire because it focuses on Vlora and Olem.
4 of 5 Stars.
In the Field Marshal’s Shadow does not include all of McClellan’s short fiction set in the Powder Mage world. It does not include the novellas No Forsworn, Servant of the Crown, Murder at the Kinnen Hotel, and Ghosts of the Tristan Basin, which are collected separately.
McClellan sent me a review copy of In the Field Marshal’s Shadow.