Flintlock fantasy is an interesting blend of settings. The use of firearms as a sort of technological off-set to sorcery makes all kinds of sense to me and the idea of there being an equalizer between sorcerer and normal people is intriguing. Promise of Blood is a truly energetic first installment in the POWDER MAGE series by Brian McClellan and it starts off with a bang, no pun intended.
Tamas, a powder mage, is the Field Marshall to Manhouch, the King of Adro. The skill of being able to draw energy and power from ingesting gunpowder makes Tamas a lethal force to be reckoned with. Add to that a strong will and a history of successful leadership in the Army and Tamas is exactly the man any King would rely on to keep his Kingdom safe. But for the King of Adro, this trust has backfired because Tamas has led his forces in the complete overthrow of his Kingdom. Now a great purge is taking place and nobility will be executed by the score, and it began with the local members of the Royal Cabal of Privileged — the powerful sorcerers who keep the King on his throne. Several factors have caused this sudden upheaval, but the execution of Tamas’ wife by the Kingdom of Kez for her role in serving Adro was one of the main instigators. Now a bereaved Tamas is on a mission to save his country from the Kingdom of Kez by destroying the King whose actions were leading to Ardo becoming a vassal state.
Tamas’ son Taniel is known as two-shot Taniel because his special ability as a powder mage is to track and manipulate two projectiles at once. He is young, talented and heart-sore after discovering that his fiancée was unfaithful to him. Taniel is an assassin of sorts and his specialty has been killing the very powerful Privileged of the Kingdom of Kez. Into the maelstrom following the overthrow of the monarchy, Taniel is sent out to chase down a powerful rogue Privileged who has been tearing holes through Tamas’ forces whenever they come in contact. His broken heart is forced to wait while he obeys his father and does his duty to Ardo.
The final lead character in Promise of Blood is Adamat, a retired police detective turned private investigator. Tamas hires him to investigate the last words spoken by all the members of the royal cabal as Tamas killed them: “You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.” Adamat is a Knacked, which means he has one very specific magical skill – he doesn’t forget anything he reads or hears. Adamat is not a hero, not a great warrior and no great mage, but he is clever and savvy and he knows how to find things out and make things happen. He too must wade through the turmoil of a country whose King has been killed to find the answers that Tamas seeks.
Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood is full of violence, action, intrigue, and a healthy dose of the almost standard corrupt administrators and clergy that we love to despise. McClellan does an amazing job of building a world that is chockfull of layers and layers of details that smoothly support each other. He has plenty of story to tell in this first installment of his debut series, and I was quickly and easily sucked in as I learned about the different levels of magical proficiency — Privileged, Marked and Knacked — and the different groups of conspirators who are all striving to set their own plans in motion.
Promise of Blood is gritty and a little bit mean, but not so graphic that it overshadows the interesting characters and the story itself. Fans of Joe Abercrombie will find it particularly appealing for its harsh violence, strong flawed characters, and the juxtaposition of powerful warriors with savvy operators who rely on their brains. Fans of Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN series will probably enjoy McClellan’s similar magic system and the flintlock feel (McClellan is a former student of Sanderson’s). Promise of Blood is a story that I could really immerse myself in. I can’t wait for Brian McClellan’s next book.