Book Review: The Crimson Campaign

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan, The Powder Mage #2

'The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions' Tamas's invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy's best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god. In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might come too quickly. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god-chef Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir's advancing army. Tamas's generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye.

Last year I discovered one cracking debut. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, it was one of the best and most fresh and exciting fantasy books that I had read in a while. Brian McClellan together with Django Wexler really set the "flintlock" fantasy on the charts and proves that this is really cool stuff to write about. I nominated Promise of Blood as best debut and had really high hopes for the sequel. Promise of Blood introduced us to some cool idea's that Brian McClellan readily explores all throughout his first book, from the powder mages who get their power from snorting gunpowder to the powerful privileged and in the end he even dropped a bomb op epic proportions. Gods. On the whole Brian McClellan brought everything together in to one spectacular book. And withThe Crimson Campaign he does it again, Brian McClellan doesn't spare the reader one moment from the first page you are thrown in the depths right until the end. Another winner. 

The Crimson Campaign picks up directly after the events of Promise of Blood. Promise of Blood focused had multiple characters that were followed in detail those of Tamas, Taniel and Adamat. Field Marshal Tamas, a Marked (powder mage), killed the last king and became the new ruler. A new threat was on the rise and invasion of the neighboring Kez that Tamas had to fight off. The other storyline focused on the son of Tamas, Taniel "Two-Shot" who has quite the famed reputation. There was a lot of tension between Tamas and Taniel but it all came down to one thing, Taniel desperately wanted recognition. In the end of the story of Promise of Blood Taniel shot the god Kresimir in the eye, Taniel was nearly killed in the aftermath/backlash of this. The last story was that of Adamat. Adamat had his own business that was destroyed and he pursued his earlier career as investigator, this road took him into some of the darkest corners in Adopest... this is the big line of where Brian McClellan left his story. The important bits were those of Tamas and Taniel. But these few sentence don't come near to justify what happened in Promise of Blood I strongly recommend to read it before jumping into The Crimson Campaign.

Ok, now for story of The Crimson Campaign. Field Marshal Tamas is still fighting against the Kez, even though he has the help of a god on his side, the battle isn't easily won. As the Kez have the god Kresimir leading their battle front... Though Tamas is a tactical genius, fighting against an army that outnumbers you is not an easy task. Tamas came up with the perfect trap, however it seems that the Kez had gotten wind of this and his trap failed, putting him right behind enemy lines. Now Tamas and his remaining forces are constantly on the run fending of the cavalry of the Kez and everything that accompanies it. As Tamas slowly tries to make his way north to find allies, with no supplies, outnumbered and desperate action it's hard to motivate your own troops... and is there a traitor in the Adran army? Because how else could the Kez have gotten wind of the Adran plans.... Besides Tamas' story, you also have one of Taniel again. Taniel is suffering from all that he went through when he shot Kesimir in the eye and desperately seeks comfort in a mala den. Taniel soon comes to realize that he cannot continue this way and when he hears the new of his fathers death in the front lines he makes his way in all due haste to the battle scenes. He is the best soldier the Adran army has. Taniel doesn't make this journey alone though, he has one companion, the bone-with Ka-Poel with powers of a scale possibly greater than that of a Marked or Privileged one... Getting onto the front lines was the easiest thing as the generals of Tamas' army don't trust Taniel any longer and have plans from their own. Taniel finds himself right in the middle of a dirty political game. He only has one goal, destroy the Kez army, finding his father and killing Kresimir. The third and final storyline that you follow is that of Adamat. Adamat's wife and children were taken away from him by Vetas, Adamat wants them back, again Adamat finds himself in league with some of the shadiest types of Adopest, there is a lot of things that bribe can do, free a powerful Privileged for example... but that doesn't necessarily guarantee safety... Adamat really knows how to pick his fights. 

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the continuation of Promise of Blood. In terms of writing a sequel, the story of The Crimson Campaign, is the story that you want to see. Brian McClellan keeps his story exciting and dynamic, there is never one boring moment in the story, he puts you on the edge of your seat. The action that I had come to read about and enjoy so much in Promise of Blood is present in full color detail. Since Brian McClellan gave a completely low-down on all the terms such as the Marked, Privileged and the two Gods, the world itself and the characters, it was a matter of using this foundation to take his story further those few steps and that is exactly what he does. The characters from the three storylines never stop to develop and Brian McClellan even throws in a few curve balls when it comes down to the development of several character, nicely done. 

For me one of the most important character developments was that of Taniel. He is also, I think together with Bo, one of the two coolest characters of the book. In the first book we really got to see him as one who desperately sought out recognition from his father that he didn;t get and from the beginning of The Crimson Campaign, he was an addict in the mula dens, but he got a definite wake up call and this really changed his whole attitude and when he is speaks his mind a bit to fast and charged with treason, his determination only grows more and more. Even though on the front he might have hated his father, he doesn't want to loose him. Like I already mentioned in the story arc of Taniel, when he get to the battle front he finds himself surrounded in a dirty game and this is where his character starts to really shine. Just perfect and spot on. At certain points I found myself almost shouting at the book cheering Taniel on, especially in the final stages of the book when he again had a chance with Kresimir. Also, Taniel survived some battle against all odds, and it is speculated that Taniel's encounter with Kresimir turned him into something more than a powerful Marker.. Next to Taniel's character I again really enjoyed reading Tamas' story, he is a old man, Field Marshal and has faced many bad moments, and his situation is about to turn into a more rose colored one. There is one word that Tamas doesn't know or doesn't want to know. That is to give-up. He preservers no matter how dire the situation might become and this is something that really nestles him down as a solid character who you want watching your back. He also knows how to rally his soldiers and instead of ruling with an iron fist, he is the leader that asks of other people opinions and get the best out of everyone. Just superb. Next to these two characters there are plenty of side characters and from them I already mentioned one above. Bo. We already know Bo from the first book but he is just super cool to read about, he has a certain nonchalance attitude towards everything. Bo also knows he is a powerful Privileged and doesn't mind showing this to the rest of the world, but he doesn't let this power get to his head and helps out those who can't fend for themselves. Last but not least were the Gods of the story Kresimir and his brother Mihali. Kresimir appears directly as the evil god, but Mihali is one that remains more on the background preferring to cook instead of waging war. Mihali's scenes often lead to a more humurous tone in the dark setting that Brian McClellan created which really helped to liven up the story. Kresimir's parts are the dark stuff of an evil god, he also only has one goal, getting revenge on the one that shot him in the eye... 

One thing that I really want to stress again is the cool magic system that features in The Powder Mage series. That between the Privileged and Marked. Just a small recap, the Privileged are able to touch the Else with special gloves, this allows them to unleash elemental powers of unheard of proportions. Their magic is very powerful and the way that Brian McClellan uses this is his story will really make you gasp, it's not written with lingering details but straightforward and directly to the point, Bo makes a gesture and the front of the house collapses. Giving me the thoughts that this is powerful stuff. The Marked or Powder Mages use gunpowder to gain enhanced senses allowing them to act with supernatural speed and strength in battle, but they can also blow up gunpowder from a range, so flintlock weapons don't work on them... The fighting scenes that feature Marked are really tense and often fighting takes place from a few kilometers up right down to the hand to hand combat and with this Brian McClellan really shows how to write an engaging battle scene. Showing some controlled long range action with the amazing capabilities of the Marked being able to do stuff with bullets when the Kez cavalry charges the Adran forces and a nice zoomed in action with their enhanced senses when it comes down to hand-to-hand fighting. So far I have to say that the fighting scenes and how it is all thought out and executed in The Powder Mage series has been one of the most enjoyable that I have read. Top stuff.

With The Crimson Campaign Brian McClellan clearly shows that he is here to stay. He debut Promise of Blood was for me one of the most successful books of 2013. In his sequel, The Crimson Campaign, he keeps the action tight and never stops on developing his story; world wise and character wise, this is exactly what want to see in a sequel. I had certain expectations for The Crimson Campaign but Brian McClellan really stepped up his game and went above them. I just can't get enough of this world with the Marked and Privileged, Gods that walk the Earth once more and the dirty games that are being played. Again Brian McClellan leaves his story on an interesting premise that is bound to pay-off in The Autumn Republic, the third and concluding story to one of the best fantasy series that I have come across lately. So far The Powder Mage series hasn't let me down and I can only say or shout that you have to have read these books, they are what keeps the fantasy genre going, authors that venture into new direction with their idea's an concepts. It clearly a winner by many miles.


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