So I’ve spent the better part of a month reading through the first entry in the Powder Mage Trilogy, A Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. The story follows the perspectives of several different characters during the aftermath of a coup, the execution of a king, and the start of away. All this while ancient wizards try to summon God back into this reality.
Before I get into the actual review I want to throw some details about the story setting in, because it has many unique ideas, and also reuses many old ones and explaining the story and what I thought about it would be impossible without this context. So the main concept that needs to be dived into is the magic. Magic in this world manifests in three distinct ways, The Privileged, who are your run-of-the-mill wizards, and use runed gloves to conduct the ambient magic of the world. The Powder Mages who can manipulate gunpowder, and imbibe it to get stronger, essentially it’s like magic cocaine for them. Lastly is the Knaced, who are just barely magical, but their magic manifests as a single talent that they are incredibly good at ( you remember everything, you don’t sleep, etc). My personal favorite is the Knacked because they are relatively common and the random talents they provide are more useful than you’d think. Also as an author myself, I can really appreciate a mechanic like that in a setting due to the interesting ways it can be used and twisted to fit the needs of the story, or just the flavor of the world.
Now into the story itself and my thoughts on it. This is the first book in a series and as such it will inevitably raise as many questions as it answers, and will have unresolved plot threads, so I have zero complaints in terms of such things. This also applies to what was left mysterious on purpose, with one example coming to mind, and that being the other name for the Powder Mages, which is Marked. From how this is talked about in the book, the characters obviously understand what it means, but it is never explained to the reader (unless I missed something). This is interesting because it raises a lot of questions that will hopefully be resolved in later books, and the name “Marked” also implies that there is somebody doing the marking. The actual plot can be divided into three different subplots that link together in the end, with two of them being more linked than the other.
The first, and my favorite plot, revolves around the character of Adamat, an aging investigator, and the ways that he has been dragged into danger by the nature of his work and because of the volatile times he’s found himself living through. Adamant’s an excellent character and one that adds to the setting of the city of Adopest better than any other main character in the book. Next, if Field Marshal Tamas, an old Powder Mage who leads the rebellion against the king, hires Adamat, and dances around the political dumpster fire that his country has devolved into. Tamas is another interesting character due to his rank and experience, and the way treats those around him. Lastly is Tamas’s son, Taniel, who is a famed sniper and is only in his early twenties but has already seen the horrors of war and has to come to terms with how warped will he let the world make him.
Overall I enjoyed the book but reading it took longer than it normally does for me. There are a few reasons for this with one of them being that I have only recently finished the entire Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks and had also recently finished the first draft of my upcoming novel Wilting Blood: Red Revival. This left me incredibly drained by the time I acquired the Powder Mage Trilogy and I still had to process the entirety of Lightbringer and my thoughts on it. The other reason is that this is a first book, and as someone who just last year published their first book, I can with experience that they can be a little rough. Now isn’t to compare the 500+ pages of Promise of Blood to the comparatively flimsy 224 of Urban Monarchs. The two books are very different (though both include magic and guns of some kind which just occurred to me now), but I do think that they suffer from the same issues. Those issues being the ever difficult process of getting from one point to another, and the dread of many fiction writers, setting introduction. Introducing a setting, with nothing but a back cover to back you up, is mind numbingly hard and has to be done incredibly carefully. Concepts tend to fly in fast and characters faster, the cast of this book is immense and the characters sometimes only fleeting. The good news is that these are common problems and the boom succeeds in telling an exciting and interesting story despite them. Issues like these are easy to fix with a second book, as you’ve gained a lot of experience from the first, and even easier to fix if you are writing a direct sequel like the next book, The Crimson Campaign.
My rating for this book is
3.5 powder charges out of 5