Review: Ghosts of the Tristan Basin by Brian McClellan

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002

I've really enjoyed Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy. I think he's a seriously exciting - and original - voice in modern fantasy.

It's not simply that he's tried to drag epic fantasy into the Napoleonic era - that his "powder images" snort gunpowder like a drug in order to control gun shot is an unforgettable image.

Of course, the Powder Mage trilogy concluded with The Autumn Republic, so what to read until his next series comes out?

If you've been following the author, you'll know that he's self-published a handful of ebooks - either as novellas or short stories.

Now, some of my favourite other authors have done this, not least Lee Child and Robert Fabbri, but I've tended to shy away from them. After all, you can't really deliver a satisfying story in less than a novel, surely?

So when Brian McClellan asked for reviewers for his latest novella, The Ghosts of the Tristan Basin, I figured on taking a punt.

And I'm glad that I did.

It features Taniel Two-Shot, one of the main POV characters from the Powder Mage trilogy, as the lead character, along with his trusty companion Ka-poel. We follow him on a guerilla action leading the Tristan Ghost Irregulars through swamps at the edge of the Fatrastan Revolution, picking off a Kez advance.

There was an eerie sense of the Bayou, and I couldn't help wonder if there was a pinch of snuff from the American Wars of Independence against the British Empire here.

Taniel, of course, is no George Washington. His job is to locate the main Fez army and kill any Privileged - the otherwise traditional but powerful magic users of this world - by using his powder mage skills to hit beyond the normal range and means of gunshot.

It's a dirty business, but it's about to get dirtier when the Kez army regroups and advances on a barely defensible city. There's a sense of the Alamo and David Gemmell at work here.

But the pivotal figure in the story isn't Taniel, or Ka-poel - but instead a heavy cavalry lancer named Colonel Ben Styke.

Styke will apparently be a main character in Brian McClellan's next trilogy, with this novella serving as an introduction. And it's quite an impression he makes!

The story isn't long, but it never feels short - it feels very satisfying and exactly the right length it needs to be.

Additionally, although self-published, Brian McClellan's writing remains strong and engaging, and the prose was polished. There was no noticeable drop in standard at all.

Still, the story was simpler than the multi-POV novels but it worked well and did exactly what it needed to.

Perhaps my only disappointment is that it didn't really address so much of why Taniel was there, and what drew him back to Adro. Much of this, of course, is already covered in the novels. However, I would have liked to have seen something more on those issues here. Even still, that's my single niggle in what was an otherwise gripping and entertaining story.

And I'm certainly intrigued to read more of Colonel Ben Styke in the trilogy currently being written.

If you've not yet read any Brian McClellan, then you could do far worse than spend £2 on this novella to introduce yourself to his world. And if you've already enjoyed his Powder Mage trilogy, you probably already know you're going to enjoy this, too. :)

The Ghosts of the Tristan Basin is available from Amazon:
Ghosts of the Tristan Basin: A Powder Mage Novella eBook: Brian McClellan: Kindle Store

and also directly in different ebook formats from Brian McClellan's website:
Ghosts of the Tristan Basin
Last edited: