Fantasist & Futurist
- Nov 23, 2002
Most fantasy is set in some form of pseudo-mediaeval pre-industrial agrarian utopia. So the idea of a book that is openly "flintlock fantasy", full of muskets, political revolution, and guillotines, in a society that includes a workers union, was very intriguing.
The story seems simple enough: Field Marshal Tamas has brought about a coup, beheading the king and nobility, in order to protect the interests of the common people. That's the easy part: keeping down royalist rebellions, dealing with treachery within his ranks, while facing invasion from a neighbouring kingdom, makes life much more challenging.
Added to this are strained relations with his son, Taniel Two-Shot, one of the best marksmen in the kingdom of Adro; and Adamat, a retired police inspector called in to break open the conspiracy against Tamas.
Between these three characters we see the story weave as they each face their own internal and external threats, trying to keep the peace in an increasingly violent world.
What is especially interesting is the role of magic in this industrial world.
A lot of fantasy magic is still rooted in RPG magic systems, and Promise of Blood has some of that - kings are protected by a cabal of powerful magic users.
What Promise of Blood adds uniquely to this is powder mages: men who are addicted to gunpowder, snorting lines of it where they can, to enter a powder trance where they manipulate bullets or gunpowder at will.
There are also Knacks - people who are aware of sorcery, and usually have some minor power. Such as not needing sleep, or the ability to pick locks without tools.
It all comes together to add interesting layers to the narrative, not least as Tamas's powder mages hunt down the royalist mages.
Oh, and there are gods.
Unlike some other novels, the world of Promise of Blood is rationalist. The idea of divine rule, protected by the gods, is seen as out-dated superstition. Yet like in an Erikson novel, the gods are ready and willing to interfere in the world of men.
What most books in this vein fail to ask is how any human civilisation can survive in a world with such powerful magics and gods walking the earth. McClellan answers it simply: they can't.
Promise of Blood starts with a strong pace and never lets up. It's an action-packed adventure with a lot of character and range of locations, and a constant sense of danger. It reminds a little of Joe Abcrombie's "The Blade Itself" in that regard.
At times there is very good characterisation, and the exchange between Field Marshal Tamas and his bodyguard, Olem, is absolutely brilliant. Other times, characters don't really have a chance to develop, because they are killed off so quickly.
I did have a few minor niggles with this book, as with everything I read. For example, for a Field Marshal, Tamas puts himself in danger an awful lot and doesn't seem to delegate some of his responsibilities as much as would be expected.
The single big criticism though - and this is the elephant in the room - is that if Tamas has killed the age of kings, then what has replaced it? What political change has the revolution brought? Is the kingdom of Adro now a republic? Because the government appears to be Tamas and a small group of powerful advisors, suggesting that Tamas is effectively a king in all but name.
It's not the sort of criticism to spoil the story - and frankly the pace of the book never gives you time to stop and ask questions.
And for the most part, Promise of Blood is a rip-roaring story and the use of muskets and powder mages works very well: Brian McClellan has dragged fantasy kicking and screaming into the industrial era with explosive skill and plotting.
It's a very enjoyable fantasy novel, and start to a trilogy, that sits very nicely among the new wave of modern fantasy authors who are making the genre much more interesting and inclusive.
Promise of Blood is a great read and hard to put down, and Brian McClellan is definitely someone to watch.
More information and reviews on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/035650199X/?tag=brite-21