Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood

Book One of the Powder Mage Trilogy

by Brian McClellan

Fantasy | 561 Pages | Published by Hatchette in 2013

| Rating |

Every once in a while a book – and its accompanying author – crosses your path and completely turns your world upside down. Addictive, absorbing and ridiculously thrilling, these are the books which grip you from their opening pages and refuse to let you go even after they’ve come to an end. My addiction is Promise of Blood – a book so good that it’s acquired its own rating.

Promise of Blood is a tour de force; an unyielding whirlwind of explosive action; an unflinching portrayal of a world, in some ways not unlike our own, where magic, chaos and blood threaten to choke the populace as it vies for freedom, equality and glorious revolution. The first novel in the Powder Mage Trilogy is, without a doubt, the best book I’ve read in a long time. Masterfully written. Persistently exhilarating. Bloody brilliant.

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.

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…

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan.

Promise of Blood opens with a society on the brink of revolution; taxes are high, living standards are low, and the whole of Adro is about to be sold out to the Kez by their incompetent King and his royal cabal. With the palace in the throes of a military coup, the Kez threatening the borders, and the populace in the death grip of starvation and poverty, establishing a new government following the rebellion will be no small task.

But the rebellion controls the power of the powder mages, an elite force of soldiers who can use and magically manipulate gunpowder to their own ends, and one of their most renowned number is leading the revolution. Field Marshal Tamas, a skilled tactician and military leader, will stop at nothing to forge a new society out of the dregs of Adro and will wage bloody war on the streets of Adopest to do so.

As assassins, spies and traitors vie to stop the revolution in its tracks, and powder mages and Privileged, a group of powerful sorcerers loyal to the King, execute one another with deadly efficiency, the list of revolutionary allies begins to wear thin. The narrative follows Tamas, his son Taniel and Adamat, a retired police inspector, in converging storylines as they struggle to outmanoeuvre their enemies both on the battlefield and within their own camp. No easy feat when the gods become involved.

Brian McClellan has created a world caught in the throes of chaos and regime change, a world where bloody battles are fought on the streets, and one which resonates with a chord from our own history. Tense, exciting and exhilarating, Adro is effortlessly fleshed out as the action unfolds. With a diverse landscape and a multitude of warring nations at her borders, Promise of Blood creates a narrative which never isolates itself, which resounds with undeniable realism – even with its fantastic elements – and which promises a clash of destructive and supremely powerful forces in the books to come.

This is a world made up of those without power, and the incredible force of those with it: the powder mages; the Privileged; and those with a knack, a single ‘talent’ or power. With the introduction of the Wardens of Kez in the latter part of the novel,  and hints of power of entirely different kind, Promise of Blood introduces a unique and captivating magic system which drives the narrative and lends more than dose of explosive action to the storyline.

But McClellan’s creative genius doesn’t stop short of incredible worldbuilding and imaginative magic systems. His cast of characters are wonderfully conflicted and imperfect creations which retain a distinctive and real quality throughout the novel. This is a society hacked into bloody existence by grizzled war leaders, sly manipulators, devious negotiators and charming dead-shots; a society where an overwhelming cast of supporting characters slot seamlessly into the plot, shaping the narrative and upping its intrigue factor tenfold.

The protagonists of this novel surprise, amaze and intrigue in equal measure and drive the story forwards at a relentless pace. Tamas is a tactical genius with a singular determination, a man who above all else believes in the right of his actions despite the often grim consequences. He is an honest man, but a deadly one, an uncompromising general carved from his own experiences who is sure to remain at the top of my list of favourite characters for years to come.

His estranged son Taniel is similarly engaging. A charismatic marksman known throughout the land as Taniel Two-Shot, a nicknamed earned for his ability to take two enemies down with one bullet, his charming and often humorous personality remains captivating throughout the narrative despite living under his father’s considerable shadow. With Adamat, the investigator working for Tamas; Ka-Poel, a mysterious and strangely powerful savage; and a whole array of mercenaries, mages and potential traitors, it is the characters and their machinations which give drive to the vast majority of this novel.

McClellan has an effortlessly engaging writing style, putting as much depth into his characters as he does his world. The narrative is a none stop thrill ride from start to finish, and McClellan doesn’t flinch from inflicting pain on his characters. Promise of Blood is an intense, exciting and relentless conflict of blood, power and politics; a novel where death is dealt out with abandon and where even the good and honest struggle to keep their hands clean. A stark portrayal of a regime in its death throes and the subsequent struggle to establish cohesive rule, Promise of Blood is nothing short of genius.Promise of Blood is bloody and brutal novel with an imaginative premise and a wonderful magic system. Brian McClellan strides to the top of my favourite new authors list with this flintlock fantasy which rides a line between the epic and the grimdark in an explosion of guns, gunpowder and grit. For those of you who haven’t yet come across Brian McClellan, there are just three words: Read – This – Book. 

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12 thoughts on “Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

  1. So happy you loved this book! I still haven’t read any of the other books in the series yet, but do own the last two. And have read the first two novellas… and I do also own all of them on ebook or hardcover, and then bought the Hardcover short-story omnibus when it came out last year 😀

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