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It's refreshing to see a new fantasy series take the time to establish a firm foundation for its setting without having to rely on the old conventions of the genre. Promise of Blood, the first in the Powder Mage trilogy, is appropriately epic in its scale and ambition, not just depicting the vast power struggles of huge forces, sorcerers and demons fulfilling some ancient prophesy, but also taking into account the social and economic cost of the upheaval on the ordinary citizen when Field Marshal and Powder Mage Tamas overthrows the corrupt reign of King Manhouch in the kingdom of Adro. That's only just beginning of Tamas's troubles, but if the rest of this series remains as gritty and as thrilling as the set-up alone it will be one of the best new fantasy works for a long time. And there is indeed every sign that the series has a lot more to offer.

Having overthrown the King and publicly executed the nobility right at the outset of the first book, the real substance of Promise of Blood then is to be found in the disorder that follows in the wake of the revolution. Tamas has to quell the civil unrest that follows, sweep up pockets of royalist resistance, account for the kingdom's debts and put the economic house into order (not least of which is finding a way to pay his soldiers), but the unrest also places Adro in a dangerous position with its neighbours in Kez only waiting for the opportunity to take advantage of the instability. McClellan does well to cover all these angles though a number of characters who all provide a different perspective on the aftermath. There's Olem, Tamas's bodyguard; Adamat, an investigator he has hired to look into a conspirator in the ranks; Nila, a former maid of the royal family who is hired to work in the camp; and Taniel, the son of Tamas, another powder mage who is charged with facing down the immediate and most dangerous threat from Kez and rival sorcerers with tremendous powers known as Privileged.

This perspective covers all the angles and combines to build up an extensive picture of the scale of the post-revolution situation, gradually revealing aspects of the history and mythology of the Nine Kingdoms, establishing social background and context, and doing it all in a realistic, thrilling and suspenseful manner that has none of the usual tedium of lengthy exposition of myths and legends. That's all very well being super-realistic and convincing, but what about the fantasy elements? Well, Promise of Blood's flintlock fantasy doesn't disappoint either, creating a world with Powder Mages - who use gunpowder like cocaine, enhancing their ability to control its explosive force and direction - as well as sorcerers with differing levels of gifts from the powerful Privileged to the handy Knacks. There are also a few other powers that are less easily defined but which come into play to tremendous effect later in this first book.

Promise of Blood is just the opening salvo then, one that establishes the world and the context of the Powder Mage trilogy, and it's one that at the moment that doesn't appear to extend much beyond the familiar subject of warring kingdoms. The devil however (and indeed the gods) is in the detail, in the realistic attention paid to the characters and the situation, and in the gradual revelation of what is at stake (and it's much bigger than you would initially think). Right from the first page there is never a dull moment, and you can feel the pressure on Tamas from every angle and sense the growing danger and scale of the book's ambition develop on every single page, McClellan's organisation and direct writing creating an incredible sense of pace and tension that builds up to a suitably impressive conclusion. This alone is an incredible debut but what it opens up for the books ahead is even more exciting.
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OK, you're looking for something a little different for your fantasy reading time. You want intrigue, you want double dealing, you want mystery and of course you want it all wrapped up in a fantasy world that will draw you deeper into the shadows of darker deeds.

Sounds like a lot to ask for? Well you might think so but wait until you get a load of the startling debut by Brian McClellan.

Also add to the mix fully rounded characters with multifaceted personalities that change the way that the tale unfurls, all round make this a title that's going to be one of the fantasy debut's to beat this year. Cracking stuff.
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on 20 May 2015
+ Most inventive magic system I have come across with clear distinctions between magic schools

+ Innovative premise drawing on the French Revolution

+ Knows how to drive a plot forward and tie the plot strands together into a fairly satisfying narrative.

- The potential of the political setting is underdeveloped:
I) political principles are used as plot points which are then overwhelmed by Gods who walk the earth
II) I wanted to see Tamas (Robespierre) be overwhelmed by his commitment to his principles, rather than emotionally driven romantically to the brink of war. Hopefully in the next book

- Like most fantasy writers, the female characters are dire:
I) A laundress who doesn't know her own beauty or anything about the politics driving the revolution: yet plans an assassination due to her motherly instinct.- really?
II) The savage who takes unconditional care of her man yet has no voice - the ultimate male fantasy?

- Lacks a sense of scale:
I) majority of the 1st person narratives are male, mages and at the heart of the revolution
II) I never really understood the role the church played in the revolution, despite the importance of the Gods
III) there are 9 cities but after reading it I can only tell you about two.
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on 29 March 2015
A PROMISE OF BLOOD 2013
BY BRIAN MCCLELLAN

I came to this series rather late I’m afraid. I only bought this book in 2014 because I wanted something to read and the cover seemed interesting. I am also currently listening to it on my IPOD while I work out at the Gym. Here’s the blurb.

*Winner of the 2013 David Gemmell Morningstar Award*
It's a bloody business, overthrowing a king. Now, amid the chaos, a whispered rumour is spreading. A rumour about a broken promise, omens of death and the gods returning to walk tthe earth.
No one really believes these whispers.
Perhaps they should.
Like all blurbs it gives you a taste of what the work is about. Going into further detail it is a story about Field Marshall Tamas, a man who has just overthrown a King and his attempts at rebuilding the country after the event. Unlike most novels we find ourselves joining the story after the event, and don’t spend an entire trilogy building up to it. Other characters include: Taniel, Adamat, and Nila.

I know most people have a view of fantasy as Tolkien rejects but these days are exciting times for Fantasy as each year there seems to be a new take on the genre. I’ve noticed more and more people seem to be moving away from the medieval times and toward a much more modern world. A Promise of Blood is one such book and is more akin to the French Revolution in its setting than Richard the Third.

Characters.
There are four POV in which the story is told. There is Field Marshall Tamas who is obviously the driving force behind the story. The reasons for why he does things is slowly revealed throughout the novel, but isn’t dumped at your feet. The reader is for the most part left to use their brain to figure things out. Which is what I liked.
Adamat could also be considered a driving force for the story, but in a different way. Unlike Tamas, he’s an investigator with a family who is pulled into the larger plot through luck alone as he tries to solve a riddle given to him by Tamas. It is through his eyes that we see the effects of the revolution upon the common folk.
Taniel, is the son of Tamas and his is a more traditional character, though not to a degree that would annoy you. He’s portrayed as someone loyal to Adro and his father, and the Powder Mage Cabal, but the relationship is conflicted between him and his father. This isn’t explained in detail but the information we get is enough to make it believable in my eyes. Taniel is the eyes in which we see the more magical side of the story.
And finally there is Nila the washerwomen. I’ve seen complaints about her. I’ve seen people complain about her lack of agency. I say that’s their opinion. In my opinion, I have no trouble ‘getting’ the character in the few times that we see her. I would’ve appreciated knowing more about her though, rather than what she needs to do within the confines of the story. She is also the only POV we have from a woman, though the novel does not suffer from a lack of women.

STORY.
The story is fast paced without much pause for thought. It’s easy to read and easy to pick up where you left off. Basically, it’s about a rebellion that sees a monarchy overthrown and the turmoil that follows. A group of people try and keep the peace while dealing with a mysterious promise uttered by dying mages. And a relationship between a father and son, and a man who would do anything to protect his children. I realise I haven’t said much about the story, but I’m really afraid I might spoil it for people. All I can say is read it and judge for yourself.

MAGIC SYSTEM.
Right. So basically the magic is your traditional magic that you can turn off by removing gloves and a newer magic involving guns. The Powder Mages are a new form of magic who can make bullets go further and control the direction of the bullet too. Reminded me of Heavenly Sword in that regard.

My only fault with the magic system is that it’s undefined. There are no limitations. I hope this is confronted in the future, but I’m not going to lose sleep if it isn’t.

Brian Mcclellan is an author to watch.
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on 23 July 2016
It has taken me quite a while to read this book, that is down to lack of time rather than not being able to get into the novel. In fact, I was itching trying to find the time to read and getting more frustrated when that time was not forthcoming. Which is a sure sign that the book is one that is to be enjoyed.

A fantasy, but one that is a little different to the standard epic, there is a more down to earth feel to it, at least to start with. The story itself concerns the overthrow of the decadent and insular monarchy, reminiscent to the French Revolution, but there I also that feeling that it is merged with parts of the American old west, albeit one with a slightly lower level of technology – in this case muskets and flintlock pistols, rather than six shooters.

Of course there is a lot more going on than just the revolution, there is the aftermath and the growing realisation that just removing the nobility is not going to solve all problems in one fell swoop. There is going to be a period of instability, of power grabs, and of course there are other things going on at the same time, which start of just as urban rumours that seem to grow into life of their own accord.

McClellan introduced an interesting and varied magic system, from the Privileged, almost a traditional style magic user, using their hands to form and control their powers. They are the dominant form of magician, and are used by many as a power base to maintain order and power. They are joined by the knacked, individuals that have one talent that is beyond normal – a perfect memory or not needing to sleep. And then there are the newer former of magic users, the Powder Mages, individuals who are able to gather strength from gunpowder and use it to strengthen themselves and improve their abilities with guns. Seen as dirty and wrong kind of magic…

And it is one of these, the near legendary General Tamas who has caused the revolution. Initially it seems that he has done it out of altruism , but as the story it progresses we begin to see hints that there might be more to it than just that.

Just as in the way we see that Tamas’ true motives might be a little obscured we begin to learn that there is more going on than might be originally anticipated. Religion that seems to be little more than stories of another time begins to be looked at in more detail as new (perhaps old) powers begin to reveal themselves.

In the end it leads to a satisfactory story of political intrigued, entwined with more mystical happens. They are delivered in a well written and engaging manner, with characters that stand out. Some you just want to like, some you respect, some you hate and some you just want to punch in the nose, which is always a good sign.
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on 21 November 2015
Having read more than a few hundred fantasy/military novels over the years it was a rare pleasure to come across a book offering a refreshingly different variation on these themes. The mix of 19th-century technological innovation co-existing with wizardy is developed well both as background and core theme, with the magic users coming across (with limited exceptions) as realistically self-centred individuals, arrogant in their power above the common people and resulting place in society.

Naturally, being a novel, there are existential threats involved - a interacting mixture of supernatural and realpolitik - but these flow plausibly from the situation rather than being bolted on to provide artificial tension. The culinary god Adom is an unusual and brilliant creation.
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VINE VOICEon 22 June 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Opinions have been mixed about this book, with one review making me wish I hadn't ordered it - it claimed it was far too complex and that there were totally unnecessary plot lines, like random gods appearing. I am glad I persevered. Although the opening chapters are a bit melodramatic and shaky, this book soon sharpens up and I found myself racing through it and genuinely anxious when switching to another character whilst leaving another in peril. There is some good world building here, with the author showing a good consideration of how different societies would function and interact with each other, and how a revolution would need to be planned. The concept of magic (Knacked, Powder Mages etc.) is clever and I can see this developing nicely. The author juggles a number of plot lines well, and allows the characters to 'live' - they act according to the natures he describes, they don't do things for plot convenience. Bring on book 2!
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on 16 July 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In my time, I have read a lot of fantasy and I have to say this is one of the most original, most unique form of magic in a fantasy setting that I've ever seen! There are a few different types of magic users in this world: the Privileged - who are what you would expect of a sorcerer in a fantasy book, then you have the Knacked - who have one particular skill only, such as knowing when someone is lying or the ability to read minds. Then there are the Powder Mages who wield magic through gunpowder - they can make the gunpowder in an enemy's gun explode from a distance, for example, or they can ingest gun powder to induce a trance like state where they can see further etc.

The book has three main POV characters, Field Marshal Tamas, his estranged son Taniel and the ex-police inspector Adamat. After the king and nobles are overthrown and executed, Tamas sends Adamat to investigate the mysterious dying words spoken by every one of the royal cabal of Privileged: "Kresimir's Promise must not be broken".

The author uniquely blends elements of magic, mystery and political intrigue to give a very interesting plot. Some parts were a little bit bloody for my taste, but you couldn't really have the story without them - the book opens on a bloodbath in the royal palace as part of the military coup to take over the country.

It was an interesting read and I think I will be picking up the rest of the series once it's out.
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The Promise of Blood" is the first book in Brian McClellan's "Powder Mage" trilogy which should if at all possible be read in the correct sequence.

The proper order is

1) This book, "Promise of Blood: Book 1 in the Powder Mage trilogy"
2) "The Crimson Campaign: Book 2 in The Powder Mage Trilogy"
3) "The Autumn Republic (Powder Mage trilogy)""

I found the concluding book in the library first, and realised after looking at the first chapter that I wanted to read the whole series and do so in order. So I ordered the first two, and read them in sequence.

Sadly even the first chapter of the third book is enough to give away which of the main characters are still alive at that stage, and therefore when I read the first two books I knew that those characters would somehow survive all the impossible situations the author puts them through.

Brian McClellan is one of those authors who does sometimes kill major characters - even when those characters are incarnate Gods - and your first reading of the first two books will feature more suspense if you are asking yourself "Can they possibly get out of this?" rather than "How on earth do they get out of this?"

I have seen this series described as "The French Revolution with Wizards." The story is set in a fantasy world in an area called the nine kingdoms, where non-magical technology and social evolution are similar to those in Europe in the late 18th century, but some people have several very different types of magic powers. The author wanted to explore what might happen when an industrial revolution took place in a magic world.

The most common and least powerful type of magical talent is called a "knack" and people with such talents are a bit like those with a "Grace" in Kristin Cashore's Graceling: 1 Trilogy, having one specific power. Sometimes this is the ability to do some normal function incredibly well: for example Inspector Adamat, one of the characters in the series, is a former police investigator with a perfect memory. Sometimes it is a very specific magic talent such as the ability to tell when someone is lying.

Another rarer and more powerful type of magician are the "Privileged" who have the ability, when wearing special gloves, to manipulate energy from a magical dimension: they can do things which range from healing wounds to acting as human bulldozers or flamethrowers.

The third and newest type of magicians are the "Powder Mages" who have a magical ability to sense, detonate, and control the energy from gunpowder and gain superhuman strength from that energy, including adjusting the trajectory of a bullet in flight.

There are other types of magical being in the story but we'll leave those to avoid a spoiler.

The character on the front cover of this book is the commander of the army in a country called Adro, Field Marshal Tamas, an anti-hero who represents a mix of Robespierre and Napoleon, at the start of the book he has just organised a successful coup against the monarchy. Tamas is a powder mage, as was his late wife, and so is his son Taniel, who is also a major character in the series.

Tamas organised the coup partly because King Manhouch was a poor ruler, and partly because Manhouch was about to clear his debts through a treaty which would have made Adro effectively a vassal client state of the neighbouring land of Kez, whose rulers are even more tyrannical - and who had beheaded Tamas's late wife.

However, when the coup becomes a revolution and the treaty is cancelled this is likely to infuriate the other rulers of the other eight Kingdoms, especially Kez, and the new republic will probably have to fight for its' survival. And possibly not just against mortals.

In the very first scene of the book Tamas gives Inspector Adamat the task of finding out why the old regime's royal "cabal" of privileged wizards had been magically compelled to say as they died the words "Don't break Kresimir's promise." Kresimir is the first among the Gods worshipped in the Nine Kingdoms, but there are no surviving records of what exactly the reference to Kresimir's promise.

Is this just a threat designed by the old regime to keep the superstitious in line, or does it mean that Adro will incur the wrath of a God if the King goes to the guillotine?

One minor quibble: if the cover of the book is meant to represent the first scene in the book, during which Tamas utters the words on the cover, "The age of Kings is dead ... and I have killed it" then he should not be wearing epaulettes.

The action comes thick and fast throughout this book, and indeed the series, as characters, sections of society and entire nations form alliances and betray one another at a bewildering rate.

I can thoroughly recommend this book and the entire trilogy.
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on 9 September 2016
I've spent the last 30 years reading sci-fi and fantasy, worked my way through the master works collection and read countless other works, after a time themes and similarities shine though and and seems like nothing's worth the time. This changes that, a really engaging take on the old genre new concepts and old blended together perfectly, thanks!
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