Author: Brian McClellan
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys fantasy adventures, religion/magic mashups, political intrigue, world building, military fantasy and fast paced novels.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for Sins of Empire.
Reading Wrath of Empire felt like snorting a line of gunpowder while charging headfirst into an enemy brigade on the back of a mighty steed. Seriously, though, McClellan has been one of my favorite fantasy authors since my random discovery of his first novel, Promise of Blood, during my college years, and he has delivered yet again with this second installment in Gods of Blood and Powder. He remains a master storyteller whose books flow so well that this 639-page novel felt like a much shorter read. Admittedly, I haven’t devoted as much time to reading as I would have liked these past couple years and it has been over two years since I read the first installment in the series, Sins of Empire. Luckily, the author does a great job reintroducing the reader to the main plot points as things progress, and I was able to quickly piece together where the last book had left off.
This novel follows McClellan’s typical format – three different POV storylines that each play into the overall plot. I find that this style of writing gives the book the flow that helps it feel like a much shorter read. The chapters often end on cliffhangers, but you usually have to wait at least a full chapter, if not two, before returning to find out what happened. Meanwhile, though, you are equally engrossed in what is happening to the other characters. This kept my heart pounding and my mind racing through the possibilities of what could happen next, and helps cement McClellan in my pantheon of action writers.
This installment in the trilogy is again told through the eyes of General Vlora Flint, powder mage and Adran general in command of a company of hardened mercenaries, Colonel Ben Styke, leader of the Mad Lancer cavalry and a man who never fails to flash his large Boz knife at least once per chapter, and Michel Bravis, a spy with complicated allegiances who is working to save the people he cares for while also furthering the goals of the enigmatic Taniel Two-Shot. The plot picks up where Sins of Empire left off; the mysterious Dynize empire has invaded Fatrasta in search of the godstones, large obelisks capable to raising a new god, and our heroes must work together to stop them. After the events of The Powder Mage Trilogy, none of the Adrans want to see another God walk among mortals and they convince their Fatrastan allies of the importance of their mission. Along with the dangers posed by the tireless Dynize forces, the heroes will have to deal with contending Fatrastan agents, ancient magic and often their own internal demons.
One of the most pleasantly surprising thing here was the interesting character development. Most notably, we get a look into Styke’s psyche and learn that there is more to the man than a large thug who kills his way through his problems – though there is plenty of that as well. Told through a side plot of revenge where he seeks out old companions responsible for his 10 years spent in a labor camp, we see Styke evaluate his past and present, and take a closer look at the man he thought he was. On the flip side is the development of Michel Bravis, a distrusting and furtive man who is no stranger to working in the shadows. We see Michel work as a spy for the Blackhats in Sins of Empire, only to end up being Taniel’s agent within their network. Here, though, Michel must navigate the dangers of working in an enemy controlled Landfall and his loyalties are tested as he joins the Dynize forces while on a mission from Taniel to find a woman named Mara. With no information to go on and almost nobody left to rely on, every decision he makes means risking life and limb. His internal struggles were a welcome addition to the action and adventure that dominates most of the book.
Another highlight is the melding of military fantasy, an interesting magic system and political intrigue that I have come to know and expect from McClellan’s work. His ability to write a clear battle scene that moves as quickly as the bullets and swords is part of the reason I keep coming back. On top of this, his writing of intrigue and politics through the eyes of Michel helps keep things moving forward. In my mind, this is part of what keeps these books a step ahead of other, more straightforward military fantasy novels. Regarding the magic system, there is not a whole lot that is new here, but I still get goosebumps every time one of the powder mages takes a bump of gunpowder and uses their sorcery to take out an enemy privileged. The one addition I did enjoy was a greater understanding of bone-eye magic. It is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, but we get to see the effects from both the Dynize bone-eyes and Ka-Poel, whose story is starting to unfold – albeit still a slow burn.
Finally, my draw to fantasy has been and will always be my love for intricate world building. McClellan does not fail to deliver in that regard. While we already have a fairly well fleshed out understanding of Fatrasta and the Nine, we are given our first peak at the secretive Palo Nation to the far North through the eyes of Vlora, and the history of the Dynize is discussed in detail during Michel’s time among their people. Not only is this a welcome addition to any fantasy novel, McClellan makes it critical to the plot and therefore all the more interesting to read. I cannot wait to see what more we learn in works to come. As a side note, the availability of the maps at the beginning of the book are a small touch that I love to see. I often found myself flipping back to them during the read as the characters explored new areas.
The novel ends with a bang (literally and figuratively) and I am truly excited for the release of the final installment in the series, Blood of Empire. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the powder mage band wagon, I encourage you to head to your nearest book store and pick up some novels by Brian McClellan!