Title: Promise of Blood
Series: Powder Mage #1
Author: Brian McClellan
Published in April 2013 by Orbit
Genre: fantasy (flintlock/gunpowder)
Rating: 9/10 – loved 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…
Promise of Blood sat on my shelf for years, unread. I initially bought it because of the good reviews, and the tagline of the novel. I mean, “The age of kings is dead, and I have killed it.” Doesn’t that sound epic? For some reason, I put off reading it for years. I was too blinded by all the amazing new releases. In addition, I never really see anyone talk about this book or series? I’ve seen a few SFF-focused blogs talk about the sequels, but that’s all that comes to mind right now. I’m glad I finally picked it up, because I was pleasantly surprised.
This novel starts off with the death of the monarchy and nobility of Adro. Field Marshal Tamas and his Powder Mages have just killed the majority of the royal family and the entirety of the Royal Cabal (mages, I’ll explain more later) in order to save the country. In Tamas’ eyes, the monarchy has become greedy and lazy and would have given Adro away for personal gain. According to him, it’s time the people are in power again.
The world is changing. People do not exist to serve their governments or their kings. Governments exist to serve the people, so the people should have a say in those governments.
One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that it starts right after the coup takes place. We don’t see the alliances and months of planning leading up to it. Instead, we start with a bloodbath and follow the characters as they deal with the consequences of ending the Age of Kings. We have the struggle of the Powder Mages and their supporters versus the surviving royalists, the set up of a new way of ruling the country, and legends that maybe should be taken seriously.
I loved every single aspect of this story. The coup and Tamas’ reasons for it, the battle against the royalists, the battle at the borders of the country, the investigation into who betrayed him, the magic and world… Everything about this novel was fantastic. I wasn’t bored for a second!
I mentioned before that I would go in to more detail on the Royal Cabal. In this world, each country has a King who is supported by their Royal Cabal. They’re mages called Privileged, who support and protect the King. Aside from the Privileged, you also have Magebreakers and Powder Mages in this world. Privileged use the Else to do magic while Magebreakers cut off their access to the Else leaving them unable to use magic. Powder Mages have powers focused on manipulating gun powder such as pushing bullets, extremely accurate shots from miles away, igniting gunpowder/bombs from far away, incredibly eyesight, and so on. They do need access to gunpowder to do this, snorting it to enhance their powers.
I found this such a unique magic system. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read a lot of gunpowder/flintlock fantasy yet, but I loved the idea of Powder Mages and discovering what their specialties were.
I also loved learning more about the history of the world, especially the mythology and legends. Those become more important towards the second half of the book, and watching them unfold was incredibly enjoyable. I don’t want to say anything more than this because I believe the reader should discover these secrets as they read but the myths and legends relate to gods as well as magic and the Else.
Obviously we need to talk about Tamas, the Field Marshal who has killed the Age of Kings. I haven’t read a book from an older guy in so long, and I quite liked the change of pace it provided. The Field Marshal is 60 years old, making his achievements believable and realistic – as realistic as a fantasy book can get, of course. It gives us a reason to believe in his convictions, his leadership, and strategic plans. After all, he’s been a soldier and leader for decades. Tamas is a character I both loved and hated. I loved how he would do anything for his country, how proud of and loyal he was to his Powder Mages, and how smart he was. You end up supporting his beliefs, and wanting him to win. On the other hand, you also have to bear witness to his strained relationship with his son, Taniel. While he is a great leader and Powder Mage, he is not a great father. It made me resent him for not making more of an effort for his son. Thanks to the mixed feelings the author creates surrounding Tamas, he ends up seeming like a real person to the reader.
I’ll also talk a bit about Taniel, since he’s one of the PoV characters as well. He’s Taniel’s son, and one of the most renowned Powder Mages. He comes back to Adro after a long mission, and arrives right after the coup has taken place. He’s immediately sent on another assignment by his father. There’s so much mystery surrounding him as his past slowly gets revealed, and I have so many questions I want to ask him. I want to know more about his fiance who cheated. I want to know more about Ka-Poel. Tell me all about your life, Taniel.
There are many other characters, some with their own PoV as well – such as Adamat – but I’ll let you discover those on your own.
If it isn’t clear yet, I would highly recommend this book. I thought it was a fast-paced, immersive book set in a unique and intriguing world. I love that it’s a multiple PoV book, and the characters we follow are so different. The 60-year-old Field Marshal, his marksmen son, his son’s 18-year-old mysterious companion, the ex-cop and private detective, and more. There are so many interesting characters in this novel, and I can’t wait to read more about them all. It’s got action, politics, backstabbing, magic, legends, and everything I’ve ever wanted from a fantasy book.