Promise of Blood (Powder Mage series Book 1)
Fantasy Book Review
This is my first attempt at reading any McClellan and I liked it enough that I’ll give his second attempt a whirl. He does some solid world building and definitely tries something new with magic. Experimentation in this genre is a must with all of the candidates out there these days. He doesn’t go too far with his experimentation though, nothing that is completely out there like a Rothfuss or a Sanderson. This does make the world a little more identifiable though because those that build a brand new world and don’t have the literary chutzpah to pull it off almost always end up in disaster. Again, it was good, but not groundbreaking.
The story begins with a coup. One of our main characters has overthrown the royalty and has grand plans to build a democracy via the baby step of aristocracy. The coup and the world we end up in seems a hell of a lot like the French revolution. From the start, I felt like I was thrown into Les Mis, sans the musical numbers. This did mean that we are in an age of gunpowder which is a risky proposition. Once science and industry get to a certain level in a world, adding magic to that world is kind of like adding drama to pornography, it feels awkward, unwanted and out of place. McClellan actually does a pretty good job of acknowledging that and goes with it anyway.
The key to making the science to magic transition kind of work is that gunpowder is actually the medium used by a new type of mage, the powder mage. The powder mage eats or snorts some gunpowder which heightens their senses and reflexes and gives them finely controlled mental power over their ballistics. These powder mages are in regular struggles with the Privileged, the more traditional elemental style magic wielders. This battle is interesting primarily because it feels like a microcosm of the struggle of science and industry taking on the superstitions of a bygone era. The other element he brings to the powder mage is that too much powder is addictive. This is not new in magical genres, the draw of power is always addicting, but what is new is that this is the closest parallel I have seen to drugs. You can imagine characters literally snorting this powder off of the bare asses of industrial revolution style hookers.
The other angle that he takes that really made the plot move along was by introducing a detective into the mix. I imagined this character as a spitting image of Hercule Poirot. Many times in fantasy novels, there is a mystery lurking that needs solving. McClellan effectively turned this into a plot tool by creating a character that solves this mystery while riding shotgun with the reader.
Finally, I did like the grittiness of the world. The author doesn’t pull any punches, major characters die, and he takes on real subjects like democracy and addiction. The writing is good but I think as McClellan hones his craft, he has the opportunity to be much better.