My own writing is picking up and if I get lucky (very lucky) I may even be able to start blogging again regularly but frankly with my job and commute, spare time for blogging is hard to find. Also ipage is pissing me off. Posts are showing up blank for some reason, forcing me to re-post them and edit them again and again. Not happy.
Anyway, on to the first book. I'd like to talk about the "Promise of Blood".
The Promise of Blood is a 'flintlock fantasy' written by Brian McClellan. I don't know him personally but I am definitely going to be watching his career and reading what he puts out.
The setting is a secondary world, so not set on earth, but there are strong echoes of Revolutionary France in here. My synopsis of the book would be: "Napoleon deposes Louis XVi and takes over the government. Also there's magic." A little tongue in cheek but it feels accurate. This reads like a traditional fantasy novel but the technology level is roughly 18th century levels. There are flintlocks (the author doesn't go into the vast and complicated variations of gunpowder weapons of the 18th century) but there are also mages. Two groups of mages, which is one of the big conflicts of the novel: traditional magicians who use magic gloves to 'touch' magic and destroy things on a vast scale and gunpoweder mages.
Gunpowder mages are the challenge to the old order of magic users. They are also very cool. McClellan clearly comes from the Sanderson school of complex magical system creation. Which is fine and fairly cool. I enjoyed seeing people consuming or snorting gunpowder to get a buzz and to empower themselves. It reminded me a lot of the alloymancy from Sanderson's Mistborn, though the mechanics are different. Gunpowder mages can shoot vast distances, bend bullets, empower bullets for extra damage and consume powder to bonuses to strength, stamina and perception. Everything is powered by powder and since gunpowder is the dominant weapon of choice, it makes them very powerful when confronting armies.
The story is fast-moving, easy to read and does a good job hooking the reader. We have three main protagonists: Tamas, the military genius and powder mage who deposes the corrupt king, his son and notable marksman, Taniel (also a powder mage and addicted to snorting gunpowder), and Adamat, a former policeman and investigator for hire. There are other secondary and side characters and McClellan does a good job creating interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Tamas is probably the least-developed, oddly because he is the prime mover in this book.
The plot begins with the coup already accomplished. Adamat is summoned to the palace where he finds the coup completed. He is hired by Tamas, as he sits bloody on the throne (great image and the cover art for this is great as well), to investigate what was the meaning of the last words of the king's magical cabal. This sets in motion a decent mystery that ties gods, a magical geas and post-revolutionary politics together.
Ah, the politics. I like that sort of thing, the moving and shaking, the negotiations and the maneuvering of nations and powerful men (and one woman). I don't think it bogs the story down any and it gives good motivation for alliances, betrayals and all that stuff good drama is made of. Tamas did not take the throne alone, he had allies and backers and all of them need to be kept happy and all want a piece of the pie now that Tamas has seized it. Of course, one of them is a traitor, which drives the last third of the book.
Lots of good action, fairly well described. Lots of magic and power but also investigation and deductive reasoning. The plot with the gods really threw me for a loop, as it did the characters in the book. Everyone here comes off as grounded Enlightenment characters, the real existence of gods was a fascinating plot twist. People care about things, each other, families and friends. The characters feel real as a result and are easy to sympathize with, even if closet royalists today may cringe from the bloody deposition of a king and his nobles.
I recommend the book.
That doesn't mean it doesn't have flaws, though. For once, very annoying thing, the author seems to have done his research very shallowly. He doesn't seem to know what order you load a musket in (powder, patch, then ball) and he seems to be under the impression that labor unions equal industrialization. Rather than labor unions arising after the factory system had created the industrialized worker. His female characters are sparse on the ground, with the exception of the intriguing red haired Amerind stand-in Ka-poel and Nila, a house servant who has some plot-relevant scenes trying to save/avenge/protect one of the last noble children. He has some scatterings of female soldiers as a sop to contemporary political correctness but none really stand out or get much space the story. A book with mostly male protagonists doesn't bug me but readers who see every book through a lens of gender studies handouts might be bothered. The dangers of powder addiction, which Taniel clearly has, are hinted at but we never see anyone suffering from it. I hope/expect we'll be seeing that in the second book but it seems like a missed opportunity. The ending is rushed and the final gunshot that 'kills' a god is confusing and vague. I have a feeling the author got near the finish line and just sprinted past it rather than crafting a truly satisfying ending to this book (which is first in a trilogy).
But I think the good far outweighs the bad here. If you like Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks, you will like this book.