The Autumn Republic

So I’ve finished the Powder Mage trilogy, and my only thought is: wow.

In my previous reviews for the first two books, which you can read here and here, I’ve tried to remain fairly spoiler-free. However, the plot of this book is fairly insane, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to get through this blog and do the book justice without mentioning a couple of things, so proceed at your peril!

First of all, I really enjoyed this book. I think that has been true for all of these books, which are each pushing 600 pages, yet I’ve scampered through them much quicker than my usual pace for such things. Brian McClellan has such a way of keeping the action moving, you really don’t want to put the thing down! I read the final 200-ish pages in a day, the last 80 or so kept me up well into the night as I just wanted to see what happened before finally going to sleep! There are very few books that I can say that about, I have to admit!

Picking up where The Crimson Campaign left off, Tamas arrives at the front line with his reinforcements of Deliv troops to discover the absolute shambles that has been made of the war in his absence. He roots out the traitor in the ranks, before heading off into the mountains in search of his son Taniel, who is on the run from escaping the clutches of the Kez at the end of the last book. Tamas leaves detailed plans for the coming battle with Vlora, which I thought was a hilarious way of showing Tamas’ military genius, by having him fight the battle on paper the night before, and it pretty much went that way! You can really see here, if it hasn’t been clear enough already, just why Field Marshal Tamas is the central character of this story. Tamas also recovers Taniel and Ka-Poel, and everyone returns to the camp.

Adamat is also at the camp, and presents his report to Tamas on the whole thing with Lord Vetas, ending with the news that Lord Claremonte and his Brudanian soldiers now hold Adopest. The urgency to end the war with Kez becomes more pronounced and, after the decisive battle mentioned earlier, King Ipille sues for peace. However, during the negotiations, a group of Kez soldiers and Privileged steal into the camp and kidnap Ka-Poel, riding north with her. Taniel pursues them immediately, while Tamas is enraged at the fact Ipille seems to have gone back on his words of true.

Things begin to get extremely complicated in Adopest in the run-up to the elections for the First Minister, especially when Ricard Tumblar is almost killed in a bomb attack. Adamat interviews Lord Claremonte as a prime suspect, and discovers that he has no shadow, which leads him to the startling discovery that he is, in fact, the two-faced god Brude returned to earth. Adamat eventually discovers it is one of the union heads, Lady Cheris, who is responsible for the bomb. Taniel’s pursuit of Ka-Poel’s kidnappers turns up the alarming discovery that they are, in fact, disguised Brudanian soldiers. Just what’s going on?!

Tamas lands a hammer-blow against the Kez at Budwiel, only to discover that Ipille’s son Florian je Ipille has led a coup, killing his father and most of the court, and surrenders to Tamas to avoid further bloodshed. With the war with Kez pretty much concluded, Tamas returns to Adopest and the Brudanian menace. Arriving shortly before the elections, Tamas manages to secure the good will of Claremonte if the god loses the election, in exchange for Kresimir’s body, which has been recovered when the Kez surrendered. The elections go as smoothly as can be expected, and Ricard wins. During his inauguration speech, however, Sablethorn prison collapses, almost killing Ricard – Lady Cheris is revealed to be the second half of the god Brude, and attempts to exact vengeance against the Adrans.

All manner of hell breaks loose in Adopest then, with the Adran forces split between the royal palace, where Claremonte had been residing, and the square, where the Brudanian Privileged attempt to kill Ricard once more. Learning that Ka-Poel is held in the palace, Taniel joins is father there and the two powder mages take on the god Brude, unleashing sorcery the like of which has never been seen before. Tamas is mortally wounded in his battle, and only the timely intervention of Adom manages to save the whole city being destroyed in the process. Tamas dies during the battle with the gods, and Taniel is also pronounced dead, though he uses this to escape from a life following in his father’s wake. Vlora is promoted to general of the army to lead them into the new age of republic.

Okay, so I’ve tried to leave out as many spoilers as I could, but that is pretty much the course of the novel, right there! I couldn’t not talk about the death of Tamas, because it is such a climactic event, and written so damn heart-wrenchingly that I found myself tearing up reading it! Such a profound yet grounded scene, it was just superb, and a fitting end for the character.

There were some parts of this book that I feel were a little rushed, particularly the end of the hostilities with the Kez. Such a central event for so long in the trilogy, it ended probably the only way it could end easily, but Florian surrenders, then we’re suddenly at the gates of Adopest, and it’s a bit like there was a missing chapter or two that could have dealt with some of the aftermath a little more. The Brudanian threat to Adopest, though, was pretty well done, and while I suspect some folks might think it was a bit unnecessary, I thought it worked exactly as it needed to. The intrigue with Lord Claremonte was just great, and I had no problem at all believing his storyline as the novel moved forward.

We get to learn a little more about the magic system in this book, which I was kinda expecting in the last one, as I mentioned in that blog. Borbador spent a portion of the last book working with Nila, the laundress from Duke Eldaminse’s house who I haven’t previously mentioned in the blogs because I found her to be a bit of an annoying character, to be honest. At the end of the last book, she was revealed to have magical power, and here she is trained to use that power by Bo, with some pretty amazing results. Consequently, her character arc is pretty amazing, and perhaps one of the only characters in the entire trilogy who actually grows. Some of her early characterisation therefore becomes clear – she’s always portrayed as a bit weak but yet fiery, and I felt sometimes this was too much at odds to work properly. But the fact that she is possibly the most powerful Privileged of the last six hundred years can’t go unnoticed!

All in all, anyway, this book is just amazing, and a definitely worthy end to the trilogy. Indeed, the trilogy as a whole is some of the most fun I’ve had with books in recent memory! There are, however, a number of loose threads left dangling at the end here that, if I hadn’t known about a new book coming out next year, I’d be a bit mad about… For one thing, just what is Nila? Is she merely a Privileged, or a Predeii? What’s the future for Kez? Why exactly is Beon in hiding now? What are Taniel’s plans? Things seem a little vague here…

The next book, Sins of Empire, is coming out next March, as per the tweet above. I was studiously avoiding anything about this book before making it to the end of The Autumn Republic, as I didn’t want to accidentally discover something that could be a spoiler, you know? Well, as it turns out, the only thing I could possibly have deduced is that Vlora appears to be in this next one, but it seems to be a totally different setting etc. We’re going to Fatrasta! Excellent! The setting for this novel series is far too rich for us to remain in Adro for too long, of course. Given that Ka-Poel is from Fatrasta, I’m guessing we’ll be seeing her and Taniel, and maybe learning more about her magic and whatnot, so that could be cool. I’m not sure if I’d want an entire trilogy set just there, however, so here’s hoping it’s either (a) amazing, and I’m wrong, or (b) more wide-ranging than a single nation, and I’m still wrong!

The Crimson Campaign

I’ve now finished book two in the Powder Mage trilogy, and while I can’t say it was as enthralling as the first book, Promise of Blood – it is the second book after all – it was nevertheless a really great read!

Following the events of the previous book, the god Kresimir has returned to the earth, and is leading the Kez army against the Adran forces of Field Marshal Tamas. The Adran army attempts to push back the invading force at the border town of Budwiel, but the arrival of powerful mutants made from Powder Mages, known as Black Wardens, tips the balance in the favour of the Kez, and separates the army of Field Marshal Tamas. He is trapped behind enemy lines with only a portion of his best fighters, but fortunately his Powder Mages, and so begins the long march along the mountains to return to his native land.

Meanwhile, the war is not going well in Adro, as the Kez continue to push further and further into the country. What’s more, it seems like the General Staff are possibly in league with the Kez, sounding the retreat whenever it looks like the Adrans might be within a chance of victory. With the rumours that Field Marshal Tamas is dead, his son Taniel does not have a good time of it on the front line, and is eventually court marshalled and dishonourably discharged from the ranks. Attempting to kill the god Kresimir, he is captured behind enemy lines and learns of a traitor in the ranks before he barely manages to escape with his life.

In the midst of all of this, Adamat continues his quest to rescue his family from the clutches of the evil Lord Vetas. He manages to track down his wife and most of his children, with the help of Bo, the last remaining Privileged from the royal cabal, but his eldest son seems to have been sold into slavery in Kez as a Powder Mage…

Things aren’t too great for Adro, as the members of Tamas’ ruling council decide to hold an election for the first Prime Minister of the country. While Ricard Tumblar begins to put his campaign together, the arrival of the Brudania-Gurla Trading Company, under the leadership of Lord Vetas’ employer, Lord Claremonte, arrives in force in the capital Adopest with the promise of salvation from the Kez. But just what is really going on?

The job of the second book of any trilogy is, of course, to deepen the drama and relationships that were built in the first part, enrich the world-building, and set the stage for the final confrontation of the third act. The Crimson Campaign certainly does all of this, though I sometimes felt like something was missing. The pacing was great, the relationships deepened and the plot became so much more intricate, though ultimately I don’t think we got too much of the world-building this time around. We’re very much in the world of Promise of Blood, so let’s just get on with it. There were some odd bits we learnt, for sure, but I suppose I tend to judge these things in comparison with The Empire Strikes Back, and it just fell a little short on that mark.

The book was fantastic, though, don’t get me wrong. I found myself more sucked-in that the last time, and was content to just sit through for hours at a time – consequently, a book of nearly 600 pages took me less than a couple of days to actually read, rather than the usual fortnight! I was a bit concerned that things like Tamas’ trek through northern Kez might prove to be the biggest stumbling block in the book, but found myself enjoying those sections more than the main fighting (mainly because the Adran General Staff are so annoying and childish).

We eventually make our way to Deliv in the latter third of the book, and meet some of the folks there. I was really interested in seeing more of the world, so was hoping for a bigger portion than we eventually got, though I think it’s cool that we get to see more stuff. If we don’t venture further in the third book, then I really hope that we’ll get out more in the upcoming trilogy that’s starting next year (I’m purposefully avoiding spoilers there, so don’t know if anything has been answered to that effect yet).

Overall, this is a great book, and a perfectly fine central part of a trilogy. Where so many books like this suffer from bridge syndrome, I think Crimson Campaign is definitely a better class of book overall. If you haven’t checked this trilogy out yet, you really ought to do so!!

Before I leave you all, however…

Wow, a Powder Mage RPG! This sounds amazing!

Promise of Blood

Promise of Blood is the first novel in Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, published in 2013. I first came across it in the excellent Geekritique’s blog, The 25 Most Anticipated Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2015, where he talked about the third book in the trilogy (it was also the blog that got me to read Leviathan Wakes). It sounded awesome, so I bought the first in the trilogy, then put it on the shelf for over 18 months…

As an aside here, if you don’t already, you should totally follow Geekritique, because that blog is just fantastic, and is my go-to for keeping up with news like this!

Anyway. I started to read it two weeks ago and, as is true of anything that isn’t a Star Wars novel, was a bit hesitant at first, not really knowing what I would be in for, and all that. A lot of books I start, but give up on because I’m just not that into them, for whatever reason. While I liked Brian McClellan’s writing, I felt a little like something was off at first, like the story was rushing a little, but I determined to stick it out for five chapters, as they weren’t exactly long.

Well, I was amazed!

I’m not going to discuss the story in any real detail here, but give more of an overview, however there may well still be spoilers, so proceed at your own peril!

The world of the Powder Mage trilogy is basically magic and muskets. Magic users exist in what we’d think of as a traditional sense, they’re called Privileged and they wear rune-covered gloves to do their thing. In the land of this trilogy, there are nine distinct kingdoms, with the action taking place in what appears to be the central land-space, Adro. Each of these kingdoms is, obviously, ruled over by a King, who has a royal cabal of Privileged sorcerers. Promise of Blood opens on the night of a coup in Adro, led by the powerful Powder Mage, Field Marshal Tamas. Powder Mages are a bit like magic users who can manipulate black powder in some form or other – Tamas appears to be able to control (I think it’s called “bounce”) bullets without the need for a gun, for instance. These Powder Mages are referred to as Marked, which is a bit like a rank below Privileged. Finally, there are more minor folks called Knacked, who have some kind of special ability – Tamas’ bodyguard Olem, for instance, never needs to sleep – but they aren’t particularly powerful in the more traditional sense.

So anyway, Tamas kills the king of Adro, along with most of the nobility, in what feels like a magically-imbued French Revolution. He also dispatches the entire royal cabal, but it turns out there is powerful, old magic in play whereby anyone who kills the king of any of the nine kingdoms will have his own days numbered, something called “Kresimir’s Promise”. Finding out what this is all about forms the first portion of the book.

When Tamas survives an attempt on his life, he determines to ferret out the traitor who arranged it, which forms the second portion. Tamas pays the inspector Adamat to investigate each of his council, while he sends his son Taniel to kill the last surviving member of the royal cabal, who is living in exile halfway up a mountain. Throughout all of this, there is a threat of invasion from the nearby kingdom of Kez. The Kez army is led by an extremely powerful sorcerer who is attempting to bring the god Kresimir back to earth, in a holy place on the same mountain that Taniel is dispatched to…

The story has a lot going on – there are so many twists and turns, I can’t begin to cover them all here and do them justice! The world of this book is so rich and vibrant, the magic system so interesting and new, the characters so wonderfully well-written, and the politics and intrigue so compelling, I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

I was initially put off a little by just how fast-moving the story appeared to be, as I felt we weren’t getting a good look at the world the author had created, but it turns out my fears were unfounded – this is definitely an action novel, but the pace of that action has no adverse impact on the lore, as we learn as we go along.

Something I really appreciated was how the book didn’t attempt to over-compensate for its genre. So often with fantasy novels these days, authors appear to feel the need to drop f-bombs and have gratuitous sex-scenes to make us feel like we really are reading a book for adults, and not kids. While there is the odd “shit” thrown in, overall the book seems to know what it is and go with it, and we get exposition when the characters are chasing each other down, rather than inexplicably in a brothel. So I definitely appreciated that.

If I were to really level a criticism at the book, it’s that sometimes we seemed to move too fast. For the first portion, Taniel is accompanied by two mercenaries as he tries to track down a Privileged, and one of these mercenaries is something called a Mage Breaker. He can basically nullify the powers of a sorcerer in the area, and it sounds like an incredibly cool concept. We’re told it’s really rare, and then he dies (I did warn about spoilers!) I just felt like we could have seen some more with this character, or more exploration into the magical system – though I can’t deny, we’re pretty much given all of the information to make this whole book make sense and function well, so it really is a nit-pick… Of course, there are two more books in the series to get through yet, as well as a few novellas, which sound pretty amazing. And there’s this:

There’s a new trilogy coming, starting “early 2017”, so I’m super excited for that!

Overall, this book is amazing, and I cannot recommend it enough. I’ve just taken delivery of Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy, which I’ve wanted to read for a while now, so I plan to read both trilogies interspersed, so look for The Crimson Campaign (which I believe is equally as good, despite being the second book in a trilogy) to come soon!