I finally finished reading the Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan, after getting the first book when it came out in 2013 on a recommendation from my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson. Promise of Blood opens up with the overthrowal of the king of Adro, and from there sends you down a journey following the formation of a new nation based on a republic rather than a monarchy. This journey is, in a word, fantastic.
The Powder Mage universe is flintlock fantasy at its finest--set in a Napoleonic era with all the trappings: muskets, bayonets, cannons, and other advances in economic, industrial, and military technology that makes the series feel decidedly different from most fantasy series'. McClellan handles all of this masterfully, throwing us into a growing world very different from our own and still giving us so much verisimilitude and a learning curve that is at just the right angle.
You can tell that Brian McClellan is a student of Brandon Sanderson's (or at the very least, a fan of the same type of fantasy Sanderson writes) due to his use of magic in the series. There are three (er, I guess four) main magic systems in the series: Privileged, Powder Mages, and Knacked (and Boneyes). Privileged are your classic wizard-types, with powerful magic that you never quite understand, though the third book gives you a wonderful look into some of the insight behind it. Knacked have one ability, somewhat like a minor superpower, such as not having to sleep or having a perfect memory. Boneyes are mysterious and almost like voodoo shamans in a way, using dolls and needles and other weird stuff like that.
Powder Mages are the heart and soul of the entire series. And they are definitely the most defined of the magic systems, since most of the characters in the series (both the trilogy and the various short stories and novellas) are Powder Mages. They're all about gunpowder, and that's what makes this series so wonderful. They can ingest gunpowder to get stronger and faster, they can ignite gunpowder with their mind, make bullets fly farther and straighter, and generally be awesome using their flintlocks.
Alright, now that you have a basic idea of what the series is about, I'm going to give a short review on each of the stories (the novels, novellas, and short stories).
Promise of Blood
I've read this book twice--once in 2013 when it first came out and then again several weeks ago when I decided to read all the way through and finish the series. It is a fantastic opening to the trilogy, and though it introduces four characters in the first three or four chapters, each one of them is so well characterized that it didn't bother me in the slightest. But I'm also an epic fantasy reader, so I'm sort of used to large casts of characters. But yes, this book is an absolute ride, and is such a great foreshadowing for the rest of the series.
One thing that I noticed on my second read-through of the book is how much I have personally changed as a reader since 2013. Not only was I able to analyze the story much more fuller than I had in 2013 and point out the reasons I liked the book and some things that I disliked about it, but I was able to pick out the foreshadowing very easily and knew where the story was going from the beginning. And then I forgot all the foreshadowing and just enjoyed the story.
I also realized how personal experiences can change the way you read a book. A dog dies in this book, and I cried reading that portion on the second time through, because I now knew what it was like to lose a dog.
The Crimson Campaign
I'm not entirely sure whether or not this is my favorite book of the three main novels. It is definitely a fantastic one, which is a nice departure from the all-too-common second-book-slump. It was in this book that I started truly getting some answers to my questions and I started loving these characters intensely. Namely Olem, Tamas, Taniel, and Ka-poel. Olem and Tamas' relationship always endears me and makes me laugh. Their banter is spectacular. And seeing Ka-poel take...ah, I probably shouldn't ruin that, actually. I hate when people spoil things for me, so I try not to do it to anyone else. Suffice it to say, Ka-poel is adorable and I love her.
The Autumn Republic
This last book was epic. So much epic. And just when I think everything is okay, everything crumbles around our heroes and they have to make one final stand against impossible odds. And that speaks to me in such a powerful way. It's either this book or Crimson Campaign that takes the cake as my favorite story in this series. The characters are brought to life in ways that they've never been before, and the foreshadowing and seeding the author has been doing since the very beginning of the trilogy pays off in some fantastic ways. If I haven't mentioned this before, know that I highly recommend this trilogy to anyone who likes fantasy, especially of the type Brandon Sanderson writes--that new wave of fantasy with refreshing takes on old ideas, engaging plotting, wonderful focus on characterization, and fantastic worldbuilding. The Autumn Republic, as last books of a trilogy almost always push me towards, made me cry. And that is a sign of a good book, in my opinion.
Forsworn is the first of a collection of novellas that Brian McClellan wrote as tie-ins to the trilogy. Set many years before the events of Promise of Blood and focusing on Tamas' late wife, Erika, Forsworn is a wonderful read that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you are at all interested in Erika's character or just more of the Powder Mage-verse, pick this one up. And when you do so, go to the back of the book and look at the acknowledgements, because I just so happen to be in them. That's right, I read two of McClellan's drafts and gave feedback, giving me a spot in the acknowledgements of this wonderful novella. Let me just say one more time, because it makes me excited...I got to be in the freaking acknowledgements of a novella by one of my favorite authors! That still gives me chills. But seriously, check this one out too, even if you haven't read the books. It doesn't give anything away that isn't revealed right away at the opening of Promise of Blood, and could be a great jumping off point to start your adventure into the world of the Powder Mage Trilogy.
Servant of the Crown
Basically, this novella is the sequel to Forsworn, and is in some respects better than the original. For one, it features Tamas, which always makes a story better, in my opinion. Something about old, war-torn leaders of a military will always speak to me. I'm looking at you, Dalinar. But yes, this novella is great, lending us insight into Tamas and Erika's relationship that you just can't get anywhere else. And it's a wonderful read. I think I did a copy edit for Mr. McClellan on this novella as well, though I'm not in the acknowledgements. He let many of his readers join in on the alpha, beta, and gamma reading of some of his stories on Twitter, which is how I was able to be involved.
Murder at the Kinnen Hotel
I just recently read this last novella from the Powder Mage-verse, and it's definitely one of my favorite stories. Getting to see Inspector Adamat in his prime was a wonderful experience, and even though you know that the guy doesn't die or anything, and has an illustrious career as a police investigator until he retires at middle-age, I still felt tension when he was on the verge of losing his job and his reputation. So, good job, Brian McClellan. You should definitely take a look at this one, if only to see a master investigator do his job to perfection. Oh, and you get to see young Adamat and Ricard Tumblar. So that's awesome.
In The Field Marshal's Shadow
This is a collection of all the Powder Mage short stories thus written (though I believe there's a new one coming out soon in the Unbound anthology edited by Shawn Speakman). I technically haven't read one of the stories in the collection, so I can't speak to its quality, but the rest of the stories are definitely worth reading. In The Face in the Window, we get to see Taniel kill his first Priveleged. In Hope's End, we get to see one of Tamas' lesser-known soldiers, Verundish, deal with loads of problems in the middle of a war. But we also get to see Tamas being a total boss. In The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, we read Vlora's origin story. And finally, in Return to Honor, my most recent read, we see Vlora and Olem do some good ol' investigate and shoot 'em up. I love all of these stories, and I'll probably get around to reading the last story in the list, Green-Eyed Vipers, soon enough. In short, all of the Powder Mage short fiction is worth your time, especially if the books have you sold on the world.
This may be an overly-long post about a book series most of you won't read. But I still wanted to write it because of how much I enjoyed this series. The only real problem I had with it was the amount of swearing, which was a bit more than I usually am okay with in fiction. Yes, the whole series is about a bunch of soldiers, but I've never really been one for swearing in any art form, and it will probably always bother me. Other than that, everything in this series was executed wonderfully, from the foreshadowing to the character development to the way that dark, horrible things are seen for what they are without glorifying them.
I highly recommend this series and all of its stories, all of which you can find at the author's website here. This is, as I said, flintlock fantasy at its finest, and will forever remain on my bookshelf. And hopefully you'll take the time to read them and you'll enjoy them as much as I have. Thanks for reading, everyone.