Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

    For whatever reason I read Sins of Empire before I read the Powder Mage Trilogy, but I ended up loving it so I knew I had to go back and read the first trilogy of books. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan is the first book in that trilogy and even though I didn’t think it was quite up to the same level as Sins of Empire it is still a great work of flintlock fantasy. Since the trilogies are only set a few years apart, the universe is still the same. This means that there are powder mages who gain abilities from gunpowder, Privileged who are sorcerers, knacked who have random specific abilities, and blood-sorcerers. All of them are trying to coexist (some maybe not so much) in a Victorian(ish) era world. This novel takes place just as Field Marshal Tamas of the Adran army has successfully overthrown the Adran monarchy and aristocracy. The rest of the book deals with keeping the country together and staving off other political and military threats to the country.

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    While this was still a book I enjoyed, Promise of Blood didn’t feel as polished as the first book in the next trilogy. I felt that some of the flaws in this title included an overuse of the magical aspects of the universe. Powder Mages are using their abilities constantly, especially against Privileged sorcerers. It would be easy to forget that they are just a small few in the grand scheme of things in this world. This isn’t even to mention the divinities at play in this book. Also, I felt that sometimes the battles felt a little silly with “fireballs” and lighting being used quite often. One other thing with this book was that some scenes were brought down by unnecessary statements. For example, after describing a really nice salvo/siege scene, there is the statement along the lines of “The fire was withering.” It just seemed weak and superfluous after describing a withering artillery bombardment. Another one that comes to mind is a scene where the statement along the lines of “He had the look of someone who did something he didn’t want to do,” after just showing a scene where the conflict was clear.
    Anyways, those were some fairly  small points for what still turned out to be a fun book. The characters are done quite well I thought. Tamas’ perspective as the Field Marshal trying to keep things together, though he doesn’t really want power for its own sake was well done. Adamat’s perspective as an investigator into the urban underbelly of society was an interesting sub-plot in the story. The last perspective, Tamas’ son Taniel, was a little tropey with him being a hot-headed, almost gunpowder-addicted, but talented powder mage. Still, his character was able to bring in relationships that were unique to the book and allowed for many of the wider picture events of the world to unfold. I felt that the uneasiness and all of the little obstacles that Tamas’ council faced in running Adro was probably realistic in a coup d’etat, though some of the traps could have been avoided. Despite the lack of campaigns or major pitched battles, there is plenty of excitement to go around and their is no substantial lull in the action throughout the book.
    Overall, I thought Promise of Blood was a good flintlock fantasy novel with good pacing. While not quite as good as the first entry into his next series, Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage Universe is a fun fantasy setting with some enjoyable characters and Promise of Blood is no exception.
    4 out of 5 stars.