Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan is the first book in his Powder Mage trilogy series. I was quite surprised to learn that the author studied writing under Brandon Sanderson whose no doubt a favorite author for many fantasy readers. The results speak clearly. His writing is crisp, to the point and most importantly, very easy to follow along with. The problem I have with Promise of Blood is not with the author’s writing but mainly with how he deals with his characters. This is a very large book and yet after having completed it, I couldn’t find myself to care for a majority of the characters save for one or two. Make no mistake about it though. I’m not looking for funny or witty characters to make an impression here because I knew this book is suppose to be dark and gritty. I’m sure the title of the book gave that away. It’s just felt to me some element was missing with a majority of the characters due to them feeling a bit one dimensional. Does that take anything away from the book? Yes, it certainly does. However, I still enjoyed it for the most part.
Promise of Blood spares you from the usual long introductions and throws you right into the pit of things. There has been a coup led by Field Marshal Tamas and his military is out to kill the king and nobles due to their lack of leadership and concern for the general public. While Tamas feels he isn’t the one to actually lead the people, he knows for sure that there can never be another monarchy if the people are to be set free.
The setting here is a little unique but if you’ve read novels from Brandon Sanderson before, things will seem a bit similar. In the beginning, you’ll no doubt be confused at all the different terms thrown at you describing the various talents and abilities of certain individuals but once you get the gist of things, you’ll start to get a sense of excitement of the things that will come. The three main roles include a powder mage whose ability includes being able to shoot and guide a bullet for long distances, a Privileged whose main abilities include those of a typical sorcerer or wizard, and an individual who are considered Knacked whereas they are the least powerful of the three but their specific abilities give them a distinct advantage when used and paired correctly with the others. The bullet “floating and guiding” heavily reminds me of the Mystborn trilogy and the use of guns reminds me of The Alloy of Law novel, both written by Brandon Sanderson.
My main disappointment with Promise of Blood has to do with the characters. Adamat and Taniel are really devoid of any special characteristics and personality and that makes their section a little bit boring to read during later of the chapters. During their sections, I got the feeling that I was reading it only because it furthers the story and not the characters themselves. Experienced authors can do them both at the same time. Replace both characters with someone else and nothing will be missed. The only saving grace goes to Tamas. His sense of justice is strong and being the marshal of the military himself, that makes him have to deal with difficult and dangerous situations.
The other aspect I was disappointed in is the author focusing on just one side of the story. I would have loved for the author to focus a bit more on the villains themselves. I usually hate it when the author makes a villain be known to the readers, shift focus away from him/her for the rest of the story only to bring them up again towards the ending of the book for the “final fight” scene. This tactic is cheap and uninspiring. For an “epic” series, I really hope the author will focus more on the other group of characters rather than on the main protagonists. Dedicating small sections of the book that focuses on the villains and their side of the story can help a lot in the development of the overall story as a whole.
For his first big book, I think the author did a pretty decent job overall but I believe there is a lot of room for improvements. I was overly hyped at the prospect of the magic system. However, while a powder mage is able to bend bullets around walls and whatnot, I felt they were a bit underused during fight scenes. I was hoping for the author to come up with something more creative. With that being said, I still expect big things to happen from this author in the future. He definitely can write and with a bit more polishing, I hope he’ll be recognized one day as being an elite author.