Sunday, December 22, 2013

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan: Fantastic Flintlock Fantasy Debut

Brian McClellan’s debut, Promise of Blood, part # 1 of the Powder Mage trilogy is a delightful read and has all the promise to be the debut of the year.
I picked up the book on amazon on sale period – after having eyed it for close to six months since it released. I had first read about Brian on Aidan’s blog – where I read about the mentor Brandon Sanderson’s influence on Brian’s writing and about his detailed magic systems. I was hooked. And now that I’ve read his first book, I am a fan!

Promise of Blood is set in the world of Adro, the Kingdom of Adopest where Field Marshall Tamas has just successfully led the bloody revolution to overthrow the King and set the platform for a democracy. The age of Kings is dead…And I have killed it. Absolutely killer line to hook someone into a story.
Brian chooses a wonderfully complex situation to begin and build his story. Right in the middle of a sweet chaos – an effective short fuse for conspiracies to swirl up dark and forbidding and prophecies to unfold. What begins as a single dimensional straightforward story of a military general who has overthrown monarchy and wants nothing more than peace and prosperity for the people of Adro rapidly spirals into a multi-dimensional convoluted plot involving a delightfully original magical system, neighbours at war, political intrigue and Gods coming back to the world for revenge.

Did that pique your interest? It certainly should. Because Brian writes with a lot of panache and gusto sucking us deeper into his adroitly built up world and the never ending action adventures of his three main characters in the story. The action is relentless, the fun never ending as the Field Marshal has to content not only with the disgruntled nobility who might lead a counter-revolution but the neighbouring dogs who keep snapping at the borders of Adro as well rogue magicians who are at large and who have darker world-shattering ambitions in place.  

The story unfolds from the POV of three main characters – And Tamas, the ageing Field Marshal certainly steals the show as the man who has to take up all the hardships of steering a country on the brink of revolution and war and in the process becomes a hated father as he’s got to cloak his love with the duty for his country. He is shown to be the man steely enough to take the hard decisions that would come back to haunt him but takes it in his stride and fights the odds stacked up sky high. The powder mage, a brilliant tactician and a brave general leads from the front and that makes him my favourite character of the book.

Taniel “Two Shot” is the second main lead, the estranged son of Tamas, the most gifted powder mage around who can float and shoot a bullet smack into the centre of the target from at least three miles away. Taniel is sent away to track and down and ‘contain’ a rebel ‘Priveleged”  with unknown magical powers who poses a threat to Tamas’s rule and plans.  Naturally, he gets the action-adventure bits and its quite an engrossing read to follow Taniel’s adventures.  He probably gets the meatiest bit in terms of character development. A ex-fiancee who is a childhood lover, a best friend whom he has to kill, a female mute savage who’s his self appointed protector? Quite a few interesting situations, my friend.

The third bit, is where Brian sets in a bit of a private investigation and mystery – Adamat is a private investigator on the wrong side of perhaps forty – called in by Tamas to investigate a cryptic message, “Kresimir’s Promise”. Adamat’s track is also fairly interesting as he gets sucked into deeper darker conspiracies that could spiral into something bigger. I found him and Tamas to be a little alike in their characterization though Adamat is easily the more accessible and thus more endearing one. 

Side characters are plenty and very well fleshed out and each deserving a separate story and track to themselves. My favorites  were Olem – the bodyguard of Tamas with his witty repartees and solidarity and Ka-Poel, the mute savage girl with the voodoo doll magic who is Taniel’s self-appointed protector. Vlora and Nila, the only two female characters with some potential are sadly left to languish.
The magic system is detailed and very well thought out – Full points to Brian for being original - there are three different types of magical talent people possess – the Knacked, people with special powers like maybe going without sleep or a memory never to forget anything. The Priveleged – magicians who can touch the “Else” and create or destroy using this power. The Marked – or the powder mages who keep snorting black gunpowder and can significantly improve their senses – sight, smell and hearing – as well shoot a bullet over long distances without really using a gun. Knacked reminds you of Lashings eh? ( Words of Radiance coming up in 2014, Hooray! A little disappointing how much Brian has let Sanderson creative writing teachings seep through.)

Overall, a well-crafted engaging debut that smacks of greater things to come. A world with its own complex set of socio-political heavings and myths and backstories to further mystique and enthral readers, Adro has been built up very well by Brian McClellan – with enough hints to be picked up in further stories as he makes a strong statement in the world of fantasy. Some compare him to earlier Brent Weeks (Night Angel Trilogy) – But trust me, the Powder Mages story is much more fun and gallops along like an unrestrained colt, bursting for the gates. With things poised to pick up even more explosively by the second book, Crimson Campaign, Powder Mages story is a worthy addition to the fantasy world. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review (with a Twist): Presenting The Republic of Thieves, a play for the ages to come.

Cast of Characters (In order of appearance)

The Sanzas.
Calo: One of Identical Twins.
Galdo: The Other of Identical Twins. ( We're still figuring out who is who)

The Henchman.
Jean: Muscle man/One-man Protection Detail for Locke.

The Star-Crossed Lovers.
Locke: Con Artist Extraordinaire/Thief/Starry-Eyed Lover Boy.
Sabetha: Con Artist Extraordinaire/Red Headed Vixen.

Strobe Lights....

<Twin#1 Enter Left>

AND.....we are back from the dead!

<Twin#2 Enter Right>

That is right. From the stygian depths of Scott Lynch's bottomless heart. We're back.

Twin1: do him injustice. He's after all our creator and has full creative license to do as he wishes with us.

Twin2: Like fuck us sideways with a ramrod and leave for dead with slit throats in Book One and bring us back in Book Three?

Twin1: Gotta admit, feels good to be back.

Twin2: Can't agree more. Good to be goofing around and playing silly tricks. getting drunk and puking my guts out. and be bossed around by both that little asswipe of a genius, Locke and his mistress - who by the way finally gets her due, huh? Feels good, you're right.

Twin1: Admit it, we ARE the best thing about this book. Republic of Thieves.
Twin2: Aye we are. Discounting the panting puppy lover Locke and ...........

<Enter Jean, cradling his Twin Sisters, hatchets whistling in the air>

My twins got more air time in Book Two than this one. C'mon, Scott, you gotta give these beauties more breathing time. Admit it, they are better than these two witless ape dummies.

Twin1: Who you calling ape dummies?
Twin2: We will give that shiny axe of yours a run for the money when it comes to action. see we got to juggle balls, do the somersault tricks on the road, get drunk on Ash xx, and even cop a titty here and there. What did those Twin Sisters of yours get to do?

Jean: Sadly nothing much. Inspite of Scott having landed us in the middle of a nest of vipers! Imagine, we got to see where them magic fuckers called the Bonds Magi live. Karthain!

Twin1: Really?
Twin2: You and I didnt see Karthain, dummy. We come in the flashback. Where Locke the starry-eyed weak-kneed snot-nosed wet boy gets to play out his teenage fantasy wet dreams. With that red haired chick.
Twin1<starry-eyed> Sa...beee...thaaaa.....! We get to see her in Book Three! Yaay!

Jean: Not a speck on my boy. She cheats and uses my boy's inexplicable reasonless unrequited bottomless love against him most of the times. Locke, that scrawny-assed genius who can make the nobles of Camorr run around trees naked and the Archon of Tal-Verrar write "I'm a loser" with his own nose...I dont get it. Why does he become a complete imbecile at one glance from that girl?

Twin1: Awww...muscle boy here feeling jealous?
Twin2: It's called L-O-U-V-E, my tubby cat.
Jean: Yeah. Scott killed those feelings in me in Book Two. Remember Ezra?
Twin1: Who the fuck?
Twin2: We weren't there tubby. But hey, you got to lose your virginity to Jennora in this book? So shove that complaint up your fat ass. We just got to play the jokers.
Jean: You mean yourself. I am sure you enjoyed that.

Twin1: Anyways, tell us what happened. Last we heard, our genius garrista got poisoned for life?
Jean: Aye. The BondsMagi happened. They leached the poison out for a price. that we help them rig an election in thier hometown. Karthain.
Twin2: I dont understand. Rig an election? Why would they want that? They can zap a man stupid from miles off. They dont need Locke's genius for that, eh? Bloody plot doesn't make sense.
Jean: Egg-jactly. I think Scott wanted to draw out this meeting between Locke and his lady love.

<Fire works. Violins in the back-ground. Flower Petals fall from the top. Disco-Lights flash>

Jean: Ahh..time that idiot made his grand entrance.. < Fades away. Exit Left>

 <Enter Locke...Speaks to Audience>

I was smitten silly by Sabetha when I was hardly three years old.

Twin1: Yeah. snot-nose didnt know how to wipe his ass but he felt love. Bah!
Twin2: It's called L-O-U-V-E. We apes don't feel it.
Twin1: Hey. I feel it alright. Down there.
Twin2: That ain't love. that is called an itch. Hold it.

Locke: We did some awesome grand schemes when we were kids. And man, was she good. she could steal anything. and get away with it. <sighs> Including my own heart.

Twin1: You're infatuated. Teenage lust. Wet Dreams, my boy. and hey, you ARE better than her.
Twin2: Much better. You gotta see through our eyes. Neutral perspective.

Locke <Angry> Shut up ape dummies. She is the BEST that ever was.

<Enter Sabetha Right>

Locke. You ass! you and I have grown too big to be part of the same gang. I have to leave, you see. I cannot bear that you...YOU little scrawny runt..would become the leader while I waste away. So Scott sent me away. to different lands where I charmed dukes out of their hearts and money. and then I landed up at Karthain. and there you land! with your outlandish schemes of bribing, setting fires, duping lords and ladies - all to win a stupid meaningless election for some magicians who can anyway kill by just breathing the word, 'kill'.

Locke: You weren't bad either. you played me well. like the strings of a violin. and got the better of me in every other scheme didn't you? 

Sabetha: You are usually tongue tied and starry eyed when I am around. So hell, no credit to my intelligence! But I didn't get one thing. Errr..among several other things. Why do the flashback at all?

Locke: Silly girl, we had to bring in our childhood love. We are star-crossed lovers. Who keep meeting and then getting lost. That is the grand theme. Meet and then get lost again. And hey, Scott kind of puts me under lock and key all the time, forbidding me with some moral codes that prevents me from searching you out. Bloody hell! my balls were aching from the last time you left me high and dry. What was it, five years ago? Damn!

Sabetha: But I enjoyed acting that play out. "Republic Of Thieves". Probably Scott was showing off his writing chops. History, drama and suspense types.

Locke: Suspense. Bah! The only good thing he did with this book is he got the overall series plot rolling. We got four more books to solve the ElderGlass mystery.
Sabetha: Ooh! Sounds romantic! ElderGlass mystery!! Hoping that he brings us back together in the future, eh?
Locke: Oh rest assured he will. After all you're the only one other than Jean who knows the truth about me.
Sabetha: Truth? Oh yes...
Locke: Shhhh....the Magi have more cards up their sleeves. But hells and elderfires come alive, this book was frankly a bit ...what is the word..
Sabetha: Underwhelming. and yes, you're welcome. Our tricks and heists have become a little boring, no?
Locke: Even Karthain, the mystery place of the BondsMagi was a little colorless compared to the lively Camorri and even the Sinspire!

Twin1 <Shouting> Yeah. Camorri. Infinitely more interesting. Sharks and Killer Chicks.
Twin2: Those chicks did us in, dumb-ass.
Twin1: <Glare>
Twin2: <Glare back>

Enter Jean.

And you forget that my darlings here felt left out the entire book. No hoodlums to thrash and pirates to kill. Tch..tchh..boring. I NEED ME SOME ACTION, are you listening Scott?

Locke: Jean calm down. We got our hands full. We got some fuckers coming our way by the next book and am sure, your sisters will have a handful to handle. So rest easy.
<Jean whirls his hatchets in the air>

Sabetha: Have I told you, he makes me nervous?
Locke: Really? He is the only thing that keeps me from being nervous.
Sabetha<Sighs> Okay smart-ass so...what happens next?
Locke: We wait.
Twin1: Wait?
Twin2: We waited six years to come back from the fucking dead, Locke. How long now?
Jean: Soon. Very soon.......

<Curtains down......Applause....Not the thunderous kinds. Mild but appreciative. like a Three-Star Fantasy Book applause. >