Promise of Blood

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, The Powder Mage #1

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It's up to a few...
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...

Promise of Blood is one of the biggest fantasy releases this year. It's the first in "The Powder Mage" series and also features as the debut of Brian McClellan. I have read a few solid debuts this year and I am glad that I can add Promise of Blood to this list as well. When I first read about this book, it immediately got me fired up. The current fantasy genre exists of a wide range of sub genres and I am always on the lookout for authors who take that extra step and use an existing genre and really put their own stamp on something new. And this is just what Brian McClellan has achieved with Promise of Blood, the big scope of this story falls into military/historical/epic fantasy but together with some different authors, Brian McClellan is leading the front into this new genre: flintlock fantasy.

There are so many cool things going on in Promise of Blood that it’s hard to get a clear beginning but I will try so here goes.

The story starts off with Field Marshal Tamas overthrowing the current King. Now normally when you see a King being overthrown it’s done by the bad guys of the book, well soon you find out that Tamas is doing this for the greater good. The current king has been wasting valuable resources of the kingdom, living in riches while the citizens suffer in poverty. Just this first change of perspective really got my hopes up for the remainder of the story. And what even more comes to show is all the things that Brian McClellan introduces in the just the first few chapters. You read the words like Privileged, Powder Mage/Marked, Knacked and you also see them in full action already. Brian McClellan writes this up in perfect manner, leaving you on some parts in the dark of what is really meant by these things, until later on when he breaks it down for you. And this was the moment that I got a smile on my face. This is the kind of creativity that I seek in new stories and want to read. I was already hooked from the first pages, but was totally lost into the book after this and finished this book in one sitting. But let me get back to Tamas.

Tamas is a the Field Marshal and a Marked, and has killed the King. I really liked how Tamas was shown from the start and all throughout the book. When you first encounter him he comes over as a ruthless and vicious man, but soon his character did change for me as you see that he isn’t doing it for his own gain but doing it for the people. But if you would have guessed that the coup would be it and everything would be fine after, you are far from right. As this is just the start of it. Because not everyone is in favour of the new rule of Tamas and this is shown in more than one occasions, Tamas’ life has changed dramatically and he has to fend of assassins by the handful. I was also pleased that even though Tamas is powerful, he isn’t all powerful, Brian McClellan managed to capture the fear that Tamas has even though that he is quite “cocky” sometimes is a perfect way. And later on in the book when Tamas was capture and in the wagon you really get the feeling that his life is about to end. Just spot on.  

Soon after Tamas’ introduction you get introduced to Taniel, another perspective that you follow throughout the book. Taniel is Tamas’ son, also a marked and almost just as powerful as Tamas. The first thing that falls to note between them is that they have a strained relationship. Taniel is a soldier working for Tamas as a special hunter of the Privileged, what they share is all business and no love towards each other what so ever. Taniel was for me the best character of the book, he is a young gun, quite rebellious towards his father, but very determined to achieve his goals. It is mostly by Taniel’s character that we learn more about what a Powder Mage or a Marked (but I will get to this). His whole young gun attitude is somewhat bolstered by the fact that he has a hand in sniffing to much gun powder to remain in his powder trance. Taniel character for me really started to shine when you see him in his task for catching the Predeii and subsequently tasked with killing his best friend. With all the hardships that Taniel has to endure and the fragile relation between him and Tamas make him more human than most characters and relatable on many levels.

Besides the points of view of Taniel and Tamas, there is one third storyline that you follow and that is one of Adamat. Adamat may on first hand seem a bit of a push over, he had his own business but due to an explosion now is tasked to pursue his earlier career as an investigator. Adamat is tasked with finding out who is betraying Tamas. Now this is quite an interesting challenge for Adamat as it isn’t a straightforward investigation. In this task Adamat has to navigate a quite treacherous path of betrayal and crosses himself and even find that the lives of him family are in danger. I was again very pleased with how his part of the story was shown. There is a direct link with his investigation into the main storyline but Brian McClellan takes his story just those extra steps further by involving much more of Adamat’s past. But this doesn’t only count for Adamat, Brian McClellan has a great way of showing each protagonist is full colour and fleshes them out in detail.

Ok so, so far just the characterization alone in Promise of Blood is spot on, but this is only just the beginning as the world and everything that is involved in Promise of Blood is just as cool and makes the whole story just super to read. And here comes one of the best parts of the story. The Marked, Powder mages! They are explosive, they are cool and I wish I was one! But is isn’t only just these Marked ones that use magic, Brian McClellan introduces a completely new magic system in his story. From strong – stronger – strongest  and strongerer (I know it isn’t a word!). The level of magic in terms of power and usability goes from the ranks of Knacked (having just a specific gift, a super remembering memory) to the Marked (specialists in magic by gunpowder) to the Privileged (you average elemental mage) to the Predeii (the first Privileged) to of yes I forgot GODS! Yes the Gods walk the earth again in Promise of Blood. Its a bold move and it works! But let me just get back to the magics. First up the Knacked, the people that have these abilities are more plentiful then the others and their gifts are mere gifts good memories or strong that kind of things, useful in everyday life. Next in line are the Privileged and Marked and these are on some levels quite similar but on other completely opposite. In terms of power the Privileged control all the elements and when they unleash their power its diverse and destructive and deadly in small quarters, the power of the Predeii is magnified about 10fold as that of the normal Privileged and when they start to play... well... you don't want to be around! Now the Marked ones, where the story mostly goes about, are pretty awesome. They are deadly at ranged. Sniper mages! THey are able to ignite gunpowder at range, don't need to pull the trigger to fire, able to manipulate bullets to go around corner or travel that extra difference and able to enter a powder trance to give them enhanced speed, sight and power! Just. So. Cool. and it all comes to even better show in the way that Brian McClellan uses this in his story. 

But this introduced magic system isn't only all power. There are definite drawback and weak point in each of them, though this is more prominently shown for the Marked ones than the others. Taniel is one of the characters by which you get to learn more of the drawbacks of using to much gunpowder, he has become addicted and by this he gets side effects: depedency not being able to function without is and bloody noses. But also that there are limits to what can be done. This does give a nice perspective on that even though, when you are a Marked one, you aren't untouchable, they even have their own kryptonite. As for the others, there isn't really that much explored in terms of weak points and limits besides that they get exhausted. Though it isn't really that a must, a better balance between the two Privileged and Marked limits and weaknesses might give an even better edge of your seat feeling. 

The story in Promise of Blood doesn't only see action on the front of magic, there are also a lot of fights and shoot outs. And in here when I read one of the first encounters I was just blown away. On a whole, Brian McClellan showed a great amount of chaos that was accompanied with this scene, people running about and a focus on the several characters and then all of a sudden when they are taking aim, I got this feeling of calm over me like you normally see when a soldier is steadily taking aim, and when the shot was fired again the chaos. This is just spot on action.

Well as you can possibly make out from the words above. Yes, you definitely should be ordering Promise of Blood after you finish reading this review.  I picked this book up on a Sunday and by the evening it was done and done. And even now a few days after finishing it, the book is still in the back of my mind. It's addictive. There are so many cool things happening in Promise of Blood that are inventive, fresh and utterly cool to read about and I just couldn't put this book down. From the characters down to the world and the ideas that Brian McClellan introduces, makes it just super to read. And what makes this book even better is the fact that this is a debut. If I hadn't know better I would have guessed that Brian McClellan already had a few books behind his name. He writes with great confidence and dares to explore new things. So if this is his first book... I am eager to find out what else he has in store. I can only highly recommend this book to everyone else. We now only have to wait until February 2014 as that month will show the release of the second book in the series: The Crimson Campaign. That should be an explosive start of the new year!   

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