Brian McClellan – Promise Of Blood

I have to admit I was, initially, not so certain about Promise Of Blood (2013), the first book of the Powdermage Trilogy by Brian McClellan. Combining magic with guns in fantasy is often based on alternative histories of a few popular periods in history, like the Age of Exploration of the 16th century of Victorian England in the 19th century. If one has success many others quickly follow. Promise Of Blood did not seem to fit in one of these subgenres which was the main reason why I decided to pick it up.

Although Promise Of Blood is set in a world in which the nations and cultures are based on Earthly analogies McClellan made the smart choice of using less typical analogies. Several of his nations have a Central European flavour and his central country is reminiscent of Hungary but not very strictly. So this provides a rather refreshing composition of names. The time period to which the story is most similar is the Napoleonic Age in which the Industrial Revolution plays an important role.

What is more important about this book is that is an extraordinary good debut. It impressed me. It did so for a number of reasons.

The plot is excellent and very strong. There is no introduction. The reader is plunged deep into the story from the very start. These are the kind of openers that will hook the reader in and not let go. McClellan does so in a clever way. He provides his information in subtle doses. Piece by piece the reader is given the greater picture while the story carries on. McClellan does not make it too complicated. The setup is clear, but the execution remains to be seen. This is basically what the plot is about. A choice is made and where it will lead is unknown. McClellan throws a number of great twists while not using them too much. This keeps the reader attentive while at times it seems as if things calm down, only to be thrown of course again.

There are no weak scenes or long winded sequences in the story. The story is cut sharply. Every scene counts and adds something to the story. This may be an action sequence, a moment of thought or a discussion between characters. McClellan adds the action scenes in varying doses. Sometimes we are in the middle of them, other times we are bystanders, and in some occasions the events roll on quickly. He does not drag anything out although he does give several characters some time to shine. He also does not stick to a tight progression of events. Days or weeks may pass if nothing of interest happens.

The narrative is divided over four characters, although one protagonist gets very few narratives. Most of them are divided fairly equally over the other three. These three are also far more interesting characters. Two of them are middle aged and carry a long history with them, while the younger third has done plenty already to catch up. This makes them fully formed characters from the very beginning and far more interesting than some youngsters who have not seen the real world yet. Two of them were really unique which can be attributes to the fact that the magic they use defined them. McClellan presents his characters in a down to earth style. Despite their abilities and positions they are still very normal people.

The magic system is one of the other great things in the story. McClellan has created a unique new sort of magic and given it a great powerful flavour that I enjoyed very much. Personally I think he must have been inspired by the magic systems that Brandon Sanderson has invented as it has some familiar flavours. I should add that there are actually several systems and each is very different. I have seen other attempts to use different magic systems together and the author trying to use their differences to good effect but McClellan has done it far better.

So are there things that are not so good in this novel? It is hard to find any flaws or weaknesses. This is an almost perfect novel in my opinion. The only thing that I could mention is on the side characters. Not all of them are that original and one reason why he does not manage to make them sufficiently different is because he does not spend enough time and attention to them. The focus is often too much on the four protagonists and only a few side characters, those that stick along most of the time, are sufficiently developed. I was interested in some of the side characters but McClellan barely gave them any involvement so I was somewhat dissatisfied on that part. It may be that he wrote extra scenes with them but that these were cut out at a later stage.

I can only recommend this novel very highly. It is original, refreshing, grabs the reader from page one and keeps him wanting more after the final page. Great characters and a fantastic plot that avoids getting long winded and keeps the events straight on while keeping a good pace. The world is not overly complex and the general plot threads some familiar grounds which provide the foundation for a story where individual actions move the story.


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