Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
Four and a half out of five

Book jackets will often contain buzzwords designed to entice a reader into making a purchase. Saying a book is like Game of Thrones seems to be popular at the moment (*sarcasm mode*because Game of Thrones is the be all and end all of fantasy apparently*end sarcasm mode*), so when the back of Promise of Blood contained a review that described the book as “A French Revolution with wizards” (Kirkus Reviews), I knew I had to read it. This book has been on my ‘to read’ list for months but I have never been able to find it in Durham Waterstone’s. A trip up to Newcastle finally rectified that and I am really pleased to have read it.

The review on the back is very accurate, it is very much a French Revolution with wizards with a dash of looming apocalypse thrown in for good measure. I always like it when a series offers something new to the genre and Promise of Blood very much does that. I found the revolution aspect of it interesting, although in the long run I think it is only going to be the event that lights the match that causes the world to go to shit rather than the main plot point, but it does get the story going in a spectacular fashion. The importance of firearms is another interesting aspect to the story. Fantasy novels tend not to include firearms, but they are central to the plot in Promise of Blood.

Promise of Blood tells the story of a country which is undergoing a major shift of power. The King is overthrown at the beginning of the story and is executed à la Louis XVI in 1789-93 and one of the main protagonists, a Powder Mage called Tamas, is attempting to create a Republic making the citizens equal. There’s a problem, though. During the coup, almost all of the Royal Cabal are killed, all saying the same thing “You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.” Tamas hires Adamat, a private investigator, to investigate the meaning behind this and, as you can probably guess, it’s not good. It turns out that killing the Royal Cabal triggers the return of Kresimir and he’s going to pretty much kill everyone. Not looking good for the characters, is it?

Speaking of the characters, I liked them. They were interesting, even if you don’t agree with their motivations or like their shady characters and they are all well written. Tamas is probably the most interesting and complex character. His motivations seem genuine but there is the undercurrent of revenge because of the death of his wife prior to the beginning of the story. Adamat, likewise, is interesting and sympathetic. I liked that he is married with a family because quite a lot of the time his sort of character tends to be a loner with no personal connections. A family makes a welcome change but, even though they don’t appear much in the story, they are used in an interesting way. The final major character is Tamas’ son, Taniel who is also a Powder Mage. I would say he is the most traditional fantasy character but again, he is very sympathetic. His friendship with Bo, a Privileged who is the only remaining member of the Royal Cabal so technically on the opposing side to Taniel and Tamas, is nice although there should have been a little more interaction between the two. Hopefully this will happen in the sequels.

If there are any complaints to be levelled against the novel it is that there are very few female POV characters. The only female who has a POV is Nila, the nanny for a young boy who would be heir to the throne and she only appears from time to time. There are plenty of female characters, Ka-Poel; a young, mute woman who is protecting Taniel and Julene, whose identity I won’t spoil, for example. Both women are very powerful but they only appear through the eyes of other, male characters. I could see some people being annoyed by the masculine prominence but it’s not something that really bothers me much. I’m not someone who really cares about the gender of the characters as long as they are interesting.

Finally, there is the magic. I am going to admit that it did confuse me at the time of reading but that might be more because I was also reading ‘An Echo of Things to Come’ by James Islington at the same time. I would often think to myself “why didn’t the character use magic for that?” only to realise that the sort of magic I was thinking of was from a different novel. As mentioned earlier, firearms are a major player in the book. A Powder Mage can utilise gunpowder in a magical way. Both Tamas and Taniel snort powder and go into a trance in order to enhance their shooting ability. A powder trance also increases stamina and endurance although, especially in the case of Taniel, it often comes across as addictive. I’m wondering where this little point goes in future books. I am also interested in Ka-Poel and her magic. She is very mysterious and I am looking forward to seeing her story full explained beyond her being mute and rescued by Taniel.

All in all Promise of Blood is an impressive debut. I like the use of the French Revolution as the historical inspiration to the background to the novel, it makes a nice change from the norm of using pre-Tudor history as inspiration. The characters are interesting and I want to know what is going to happen next with them. McClellan has created a fascinating world and his strong point is definitely description and character building. Promise of Blood sets up the story, the world and the characters brilliantly and I feel that it definitely adds something new to the fantasy genre and I can’t wait to pick up The Crimson Campaign and continue the story.

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