Book Review, Fiction

Review: Promise of Blood

Promise of Blood Book Cover Promise of Blood
The Powder Mage trilogy
Brian McClellan
April 16, 2013


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... In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?  - Goodreads

I picked up Promise of Blood for two reasons. The cover and the words “Powder mage”. The two combined creates quite an evocative image. Now Promise of Blood did deliver in some aspects, but didn’t reached the level of awesomeness I was expecting. Not for a lack of trying, though.

There is a lot going on in this novel. I’ve said this about other novels, but this book throws plot lines at you like a tennis ball machine.

There’s a military coup, a detective story, a man hunt, assassination attempts, an addict soldier, a magical chef and a volcano – perhaps, not sure about the volcano. Things got complicated and confusing.

There are three different and disjointed magic systems. Four, if you count literal gods. Five, if you distinguish the magic Ka-Poel does from the rest of the Privileged.

The setting is based on the Napoleonic era and has all the trappings of said era. It’s not set in Britain, but in the fictional kingdom of Adro.

The characters grows on you over time, but I found their names problematic. A combination of 18th century with high fantasy as far as I could tell.

Promise of Blood has the slow growth of comradery and by the end I could almost remember some of their names. Although the name Adamat will always remind me of a certain Hussar-jacket wearing musician.

There are a lot of comparisons that can be made with one particular epic fantasy series. It would be unfair to name it, but unfortunately I was reminded of how much more I enjoyed reading those books.

Promise of blood is a reasonably good book. It is very creative in certain areas and spins political intrigue like a pro. But the pacing was off. It read like an action thriller where everything should happen in one day. Instead there are these great lapses of time spanning weeks and months.

I was in three moods while reading this book. I either enjoyed it, annoyed by it or bored. Like I said; it’s overflowing with interesting ideas, but they don’t all work well together.

The last bit of criticism I have is the portrayal of women. Now, it is based on a time were women weren’t considered to be important, but this is fantasy. There is no reason to translate those views over as well.
The women are either subservient, in a harem or cold and ruthless. Or even mute.

In conclusion, Promise of Blood is a proper flintlock fantasy. It combines political intrigue with a Boy’s Own adventure. It is by far not the best fantasy novel I’ve read, but it is a nice breakaway from the traditional medieval setting.

And the cover is still really nice.

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