Promise of Blood is the first book in The Powder Mage trilogy by american writer Brian McClellan. It was published in 2013, meaning that for some unfathomable reason it has managed to stay under my radar for two years. I am happy to say that this oversight on my part has now been corrected.
This was McClellans debut novel , and his incorporation into the not-so exclusive club of fantasy and sci-fi writers as been generally very well received. After Promise of Blood he has concluded the trilogy with The Crimosn Campaign (2014) and The Autum Republic (2015). This we like, three books – three years. Not; two books – indefinite years (Yes, Rothfuss, I’m talking to you!). He has also published a host of short stories and novellas set in the same universe. The Promise of Blood bagged him the David Gemmel Legend Award for best newcomer, The Morningstar, in 2013.
The story takes place in the kingdom of Adro, or to be more precise, the former kingdom of Adro.
Why the former you ask? Well the story starts of with the overthrow of the incompetent king and his sorcerous protectors The Roayl Cabal (come on, that is no spoiler! it happens on page two for crying out loud!).
Having brought the kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy through spending all the money on himself and his royal croonies, the king has agreed to sign a treaty with neighboring Kez, a treaty that in reality will make Adro into nothing more than a vassal state. This does not sit well with Field Commander Tamas, whose wife some years earlier was imprisoned and later executed by Kez, prompting him to take action and seize control of the government.
With his dying breath the last of the sorcerers of The Royal manages to whisper “Don’t break Kesmirs Promise!” Realizing that this has some kind of significance Tamas send for former police investigator now turned private eye Adamat and tasks him with finding out what lies behind the cryptic message.
As Adamat conducts his investigation we also follow Tamas struggle to keep control of Adro in the aftermath of the coup. A task that proves difficult as surviving royalist and escaped wizards strive to thwart and kill him. One mysterious sorceress in particular proving exceedingly difficult to catch, and Tamas sends his own son Taniel after her.
The story in the first book focuses on these three characters, Tamas, Adamat and Taniel, but also introduces a host of other more or less important persons. Among these we find a cook, sorry a chef, that may or may not also be a god and of course an obligatory assassins guild.
All this happens while Adro must prepare for what seems as an unavoidable war with Kez.
The Promise of Blood is a good story, a story that has been told before, but still a good story. Unfortunately a good story is not enough, you need to fill them with interesting characters and here The Power of Blood have some clear deficiencies. The main characters are a bit one-dimensional, their stories are just not that captivating. A private detective with money problems, a son with daddy issues and a ruler who agonizes over all the hard and brutal decisions he has to make in the name of the greater good. All well and good, the fact that it has been done before doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad, but for it to be something more you need to bring something new to the table. I am happy to say that this gets better as the story progresses, but even after having finished the whole book I don’t really feel that much for any of the characters.
The magic system has received some praise and it uses a rather novel idea even though you clearly see some influence from Brandon Sanderson’s allomancy-based magic. It’s based on the fact that mages can use gunpowder to heighten their powers. Well, I am not thrilled, but then I seldom cares about how the magic works. I find that in many fantasy novels it would have been better for the author to just say “hey its magic”, and leave it at that. Several novels are more or less ruined by the writes need to show off their fancy new system. That being said, this is not the case with this book, the system is well incorporated in the story and doesn’t take to much space.
I feel I have been overly negative here, The Powder Mage is a good book and its being McClellans first I have faith that as he becomes more experienced he will manage to flash out the characters more. In that case it will go from a good series to a very good one.
So my recommendation is that you buy the book, it has the potential to become a really good fantasy series.
I will off course uptate this review as soon as I have read the two next installments which I guess will be soon.