Book Review – Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

The blurb promises:

The Age of Kings is dead… and I have killed it.

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

In a lot of ways this book reminded me of Brandon Sanderson’s work – there’s a new magic system and a mysterious ancient history.  I don’t think it’s quite as good as Sanderson’s work, but it’s still pretty good.

Gunpowder magic is a unique idea, but I feel the author could have done more with it.  He hints that powder mages can float bullets around corners, but none of the characters actually do it.  On the other hand I thought the idea of powder mages becoming addicted to gunpowder was a nice twist.

One of the major plot points is a revolution that overthrows the monarchy (it’s in the blurb so it’s not a spoiler).  The weird thing is that the revolution happens in the background – it feels a bit strange that lots of dramatic stuff happens, but it’s all offscreen.

An interesting thing about this book is that it has three plotlines with different genres – detective, war and politics.  It’s refreshing for a book in the fantasy genre to take such an unusual approach.

A problem I had with the book is that it builds up the bad guys as being almost unbeatably tough but then the main characters take them down easily.

The ending is epic and satisfying but sets up the sequels.

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Book Review – Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams

Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams

Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams

The blurb says:

Aiah has fought her way from poverty and discovered a limitless source of plasm, the mysterious substance that powers the world-city. Her discovery soon involves her with Constantine, the charismatic, dangerous, seductive revolutionary who plans to overthrow, not simply the government, but the cosmic order…

This is yet another book that was a lot older (1995) than I was aware of when I decided to buy it.  I really should pay more attention to these things – I think it’s the new covers that fool me.

So, predictably, although the book is set in the far future, it’s not our future but the future of our past, which is sometimes jarringly different – for example computer and telephone technology.

Having said that, books are about people, and good writing is good regardless when it was written.  There are some surprisingly subtle personal interactions and characterizations in this book.

The book is set in a world (presumably far future earth) that is completely covered in city.  Although this is a fairly well worn sci-fi idea, the author makes it interesting by making the reader think about some of the consequences of a city-planet, for example where does the food grow?

Unfortunately the author commits (what is for me) the cardinal sin of not finishing the book properly and throws away all of the goodwill he’d built up.  I know the book is part of a series but nothing in this book is resolved – it just stops.

Book Review – Red Knight by Miles Cameron

Red Knight by Miles Cameron

Red Knight by Miles Cameron

The blurb ventures:

Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild. Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder. It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it. The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with. Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war. . .

Miles Cameron is actually the pen name of Christian Cameron, who writes historical fiction.  The author’s experience in this area is very apparent – the book contains a lot of detail about medieval life: specifically arms, armor and tactics.  This aspect alone is enough to make this book stand out among fantasy books whose authors have done less research.

Having said that, other parts of the book suffer in comparison.  There are more descriptions of fighting than anything else.  Although there is a small amount of intrigue, the politics usually involved in this type of story are largely missing.

I also felt that there were too many characters.  On one hand it allows more characters to be killed off in the many battle scenes, but on the other hand we don’t get to know most of them very well and the constant changes of perspective leave the reader less invested in the story.

In the book’s universe magic is mostly frowned upon both culturally and religiously, however by the end of the book almost every character is revealed to have some sort of magical ability.  It’s difficult to believe that something could be simultaneously so prevalent and so shameful.  Characters who don’t have magic happen to all be the best people in the world at whatever they do.

Between the constant descriptions of war and the fact that everyone is awesome, the book ends up reading a bit like macho wish fulfillment.

The book was a lot longer than I expected, and while I was reading it something unusual happened.  In spite of the problems I’ve mentioned, spending so long with the (surviving) characters and following them through their tribulations made me care about them more, until by the end of the book the author had won me over.  I think if the book had been 1/3 shorter I would have dismissed it, but as it is I actually want to read the sequel.

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