Brian McClellan – The Crimson Campaign

When writing a trilogy most authors opt for writing a single story, ending the first and the second book in something of a cliffhanger and starting the next one immediately afterwards, providing the reader with limited information on the situation. This causes the middle novel to not have either beginning or ending, making it often the weaker part of the novel, although one could say all three novels have their weaknesses and only work best when seen as a whole. The alternative approach that an author can take is providing story arcs within the greater story so that each novel has some closure, allowing for something of a beginning in the next novels.

In the case of the Powder Mage Trilogy Brian McClellan has opted for the second approach, although not in an absolute fashion. He did provide closure in the first novel by completing several major storylines. He does so far less in his second novel, leaving the story arcs in a greater measure of openess. Perhaps McClellan felt otherwise or perhaps this was the best way he could cut the greater story into a third part. I will only know after reading the third and final volume.

The Crimson Campaign (2014) retains the four character perspectives of the first novel with the fourth one remaining of a minor nature and one of three gets less attention. Much of the focus lies on two story arcs that cover the central war activities. The revolution is under threat from several levels and surprises hit from beginning to end. Nevertheless the story does not have the great dynamic of the first novel in which much was complicated and McClellan was able to tell a very engaging tale. The two story arcs that form the center of the plot are far more straightforward. It is win or lose and the little ploys that McClellan fits into them do not carry that great an impact. The main cause is that the reader has become accustomed to the magic systems of the world that McClellan has created: one with the common system of magic with its traits and the original powder magic that changes much of old balance. In the first novel we did not know exactly what it could do or what the limits were but now we do and McClellan does not introduce anything new. There is actually less magic in this novel. Much is left to common warfare.

While McClellan does not need to introduce his characters and his world he does not spend time developing the world any further. Instead he gives more focus to his characters and trying to develop them more. Unfortunately they are more of an internal kind than by interaction with other characters. The minor characters could have used some more development and thus lack some depth. It are the details that enrich a story and also give it depth when you can’t provide much in other places. It seems that McClellan has provided much of what he could and what remains are relatively minor things.

That all being said, The Crimson Campaign is not a weak middle book, certainly not when comparing to many other trilogies. It is however not a rather strong middle book either. It manages to provide a good follow-up of the first novel and a story arc to carry on its own with several nice twists that are found from the early parts until the last ones. As always there are some great scenes that will give the reader great joy and McClellan keeps his story well grounded and easily manages to conjure up the unique familiar atmosphere. All in all The Powder Mage Trilogy is an original story with a very different setting than the usual fantasy worlds. In a way that is a bit of a new trend in the fantasy novels of the past years in which fantasy novels seek to mix fantasy in an original world with a different level of technology than mediaevil. It is a refreshing trend that has gained my interest especially as the number of authors that create them remains limited.

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