Promise of Blood is “flintlock fantasy” or, an epic fantasy set in a world with guns as well as magic, roughly equivalent to the 18th century (ish) in our world, a new-to-me genre. In this particular series, Field Marshal Tamas, the leader of the Powder Mages, who gain strength from gunpowder, has just overthrown Manhouch, the king, an exceptionally corrupt individual, and is now working to set up his own government against many who would prefer he not do just that. Some of those are in his inner circle, so Tamas enlists the help of Adamat, a private investigator, to find out exactly what’s going on, and his son Taniel “Two-shot” to protect his fledgling state from power-hungry neighbors.
The book felt to me very similar to those I’ve read about the French Revolution, except with a less redeemable monarchy and nobility. The fact that there are old-fashioned guns involved undoubtedly helped, as it seems to further the prospective era of the fantasy along in my head from the typical medieval-esque settings. The people are unhappy and the people are hungry; in the case, though, Tamas does genuinely want to help them. It made for a nice change and provided a different atmosphere than what I was used to. I’ve never read a book in this particular branch of fantasy before, as I generally start being less interested in history when guns get introduced, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I really liked the magic system. The Powder Mages don’t exist in isolation; there are also the Privileged, who work a different kind of magic entirely, and act in a sort of opposition to the Powder Mages. When first starting the book everything seemed very confusing, but it sorts itself out quickly and by the end of this first volume I felt very familiar with how everything was meant to work and who was who. I’d say it’s a similar learning curve to most books of this sort. If you’re starting a new epic fantasy series, you’re going to have to learn the ropes before you can enjoy the story, and this is one that drops its readers straight into the thick of it.
Undoubtedly this book benefited from the fact that I’ve spent the last few months craving fantasy (just like certain sets of historical fiction now suffer from over-reading). I really, really wanted to read a proper epic fantasy and this certainly started me off in that direction. It’s also fast-paced, with consequences that are wide and political but characters that are very human, aspects of books that I love. Probably its only fault is that virtually all of the characters and central players in it are men. Women are rarely featured in positions of power, with a few exceptions, in the particular society McClellan has created, although the foreign Ka-poel, Taniel’s bodyguard, is an excellent example of how women can subvert that. I think Ka-poel is the most interesting character in the book, simply because she’s mysterious and completely underrated by most of the other characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing where McClellan takes her.
Aside from that particular gripe, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the world and the magic system and I felt I really got to know the characters. I’m invested in what happens next and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, The Crimson Campaign, out next month.
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