Let me preface this review by admitting that I am an inexperienced flintlock fantasy reader. I know that it is a new-ish subgenre, but from what I can tell, it’s growth has been explosive (pardon the pun). My first foray into the subgenre was with Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I enjoyed massively. This unfortunately meant that a precedent was set. Because of Wexler’s fantastic effort, I have been spoiled and now expect all flintlock fantasy to measure up to his standard.
With Promise of Blood I was not disappointed.
I absolutely loved McClellan’s style, finishing the book in two days if that. The emphases of Promise of Blood were very different, with far more focus on magic and religion throughout, than the much more colonial and military themes of The Thousand Names. On this point, it is rare nowadays to find a fresh approach to magic. Brandon Sanderson famously achieved it in the Mistborn Trilogy with Allomancy etc, and McClellan I feel has equaled his achievement with the use of Powder Mages. The idea is so beautifully simple and original all at the same time. Along with innovative magic, there was a lot of politics and intrigue, though interspersed with a good amount of very well-written action.
The characters all had a staggering amount of depth, but the various backstories, as well as the fantastically-drawn world were revealed gradually, with no large exposition dumps. The subplots worked well, following and feeding into the main story enough that I never felt too far removed from central events. The whole book culminated in some very satisfying and suitably epic showdowns. It is rare for the first book of a trilogy to wrap things up quite so well as this, and having read many that don’t, I absolutely loved it.
‘Promise of Blood’, by Brian McClellan is the first in The Powder Mage Trilogy.