Because all of life is stories.
If you’re looking for something a little different with your next fantasy novel, allow me to kindly shove you very very hard in the direction of Brian McClellan while uttering nonsensical worlds about voodoo and gunpowder. Promise of Blood is McClellan’s debut novel, and it hits you in the teeth straight out of the gate. Set in a world of nine kingdoms in the middle of an industrial revolution, Promise of Blood combines both magic and technology to create a world in flux. The days of monarchy are coming to a close, and nowhere more swiftly than in the kingdom of Adro, in the capital city of Adopest.
We open on Inspector Adamat, years removed from his investigation of Ricard Tumblar in the previously reviewed Murder at the Kinnen Hotel, arriving at the royal palace. It is bathed in blood and the stench of gunpowder. Soon Adamat is enfolded into the monarchy destroying coup begun by one of our other main protagonists, Field Marshall Tamas. Fed up with long suffering of the people of Adro Tamas and a small group of coconspirators remove quickly and violently the king and as many of the ruling nobility as they can manage in bloody fashion. In just the first handful of chapters. This book focuses on the repercussions of those actions. Namely, how do you hold together a nation that was on the brink of collapse under the rule of the old king? People need to be fed. Hungry nations to the East need to be repelled. Loyalties need to be assured. Also, the blood curse placed upon the kingdom by an old god needs to be dealt with.
Did I forget to mention the blood curse?
It turns out that the gods above, one of them in particular, made a promise to the line of old kings. And now that Tamas and his cabal have overthrown the royal line, there are those that would hold the god to its word. While Tamas is busy holding together a nation on the brink and Adamat is occupied discovering the enemies that would bring down Adro from within, Taniel Two-Shot, son of Field Marshal Tamas, will be busy hunting down magicians and sorcerers known as Privileged. Privileged have the power to burn men where they stand, raze mountains to the ground, reduce city blocks to ash. And the Kez, the eastern nation that looks upon Adro with jealous eyes, have a lot more of them.
Promise of Blood takes an interesting turn away from setting fantasy novels in a middle age/renaissance era secondary world and jumps forward several hundred years to a time when industry is growing at a previously though unfathomable rate. Think Gangs of New York era technology with powerful mages and living gods. McClellan looks at how magic directs the creation of new technology, and how the technology of the world influences the magic of that world. This is especially interesting when it comes to the powder mages, which I touched on briefly in the review I linked to above. Powder mages imbibe gun powder, whether by snorting or by ingesting it, to gain an increase in all of their physical attributes. Pain dulls, sight and focus sharpens, endurance and strength increase, so on and so forth. But the most interesting thing about a powder mage is that they have the ability to push on bullets after they’ve been fired in addition to being able to ignite powder with nothing but a thought. The best of the mages have been known to strike down several targets with a single shot, simultaneously firing multiple rounds from a single powder charge.
The privileged and the powder mages share a constant and deep enmity for one another. The Marked (As powder mages are sometimes referred to) are some of the only people in existence with the power to kill a privileged sorcerer, and so for man years were hunted down and exterminated. Some interesting friendships do crop up despite the relationship between the two groups though, specifically those of Taniel and Bo, formerly of the Iron King’s royal cabal. McClellan hints at and gives us glimpses of several other kinds of magic as well, from the MageBreakers who have the ability to dampen and disabuse privileged of their powers, to Ka-Poel, Taniel’s erstwhile young companion and bodyguard. He leaves plenty of room for questions and for growth as the second and third books continue. Speaking of which, the third and final book drops February 10th of this year, so you won’t have long to wait should you pick up the series.
In addition to the upcoming completion of the trilogy, McClellan has also published over a half dozen novellas and short stories that fill in backstory of the Powder Mage world. He also has a follow up series planned, but no definitive dates have been set down for the release of those books. At any rate, he’s another author that publishes the big books fairly regularly, while still giving his fans tidbits and extras every few months to keep their appetites whetted while they wait for the more regular releases.
The world of Promise of Blood offers up a unique secondary world that feels fresh and original, as opposed to a copy of Middle Earth that so many prop their stories upon. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a nice change up if you’re looking for something fresh. The magics held within are fascinating, and the political intrigue and danger of a world on the brink of visitation by a vengeful god keeps the pages turning long into the night. Brian McClellan is one of the growing number of writers that represent the best of a new generation of SFF authors. If he continues writing at the clip he is now, with the quality that he put into this novel, the genre is in another set of capable and thrilling hands for the future.