Servant of the Crown by Brian McClellan – Novella Review

Book Review

Servant of the Crown by Brian McClellan

Servant_of_the_Crown_01Brian McClellan does something a little different with his Powder Mage universe. Instead of relying solely on his publishing deal for full-length works, he also produces short fiction that  adds meaning to the novels. As of this post, he’s released five such stories, the latest being Servant of the Crown, a story in which we finally discover how he met his fated other half, Erika.

Captain Tamas is a member of the Adran military, a commoner who worked his way through the ranks to get as far as he has, with ambitions to go higher. McClellan wastes no time in painting us a very vivid picture of Tamas’ hatred for the nobility. The clashing ideals and personalities between Tamas and the entitled nobles forms the crux of the novella.

Soon the King himself becomes involved along with one of the privileged sorceresses of the royal cabal, which leaves Tamas to be nothing more than a pawn on a chessboard he barely understands.

The only help Tamas receives is from a young Kez noblewoman, a girl named Erika who is a powder mage herself, albeit one who has been forced to hide her powers from a country that despises her kind. Last seen in the short story Forsworn, Erika has become enamored with the idea of Tamas’ rise to power in the military and his advocacy for powder mages.

McClellan’s writing is as tight as ever and still manages to contain the intensity of a summer blockbuster into writing. While the explosions and impossible shots are still a treat to read the true delight came in the banter between Tamas and Erika. Their chemistry is strong and their dialogue is some of the most genuine representations of early couples I’ve had the pleasure to read.

There are numerous ways to experience Servant of the Crown, but I’d recommend the direct method and getting it from the source? Check out Brian’s books and collection of short stories here.

 

Synopsis:

Captain Tamas is an ambitious young officer in the Adran army. As a commoner, he is one of very few without noble blood to hold a rank. When he challenges the son of a duke over an insult, the subsequent duel lands him in hot water with the nobility and the royal cabal of Privileged sorcerers. Tamas is soon drawn into a conflict that goes to the very highest office in the land, and his only ally is the most unlikely of people; a young noblewoman named Erika, who needs Tamas to teach her how to wield her powers as a powder mage.

Occurs about thirty-five years before the events in Promise of Blood.

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan – Book Review

Book Review

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

91WXPFBCv+L._SL1500_Brian McClellan authored one of my favorite debuts of 2013. His first novel Promise of Blood was filled with everything I want in an original work of fiction. Now, the second book, The Crimson Campaign has hit shelves.

Each successive book by a new author is a risk. “Will the audience like it?” “Can it live up to the first?” “What if the author hits a sophomore slump?” Luckily for us, McClellan not only matched the spark of his first book, but he surpassed it as well.

The dialogue is tighter, the action scenes more intense and the drama has never been more real.

The Crimson Campaign is an addictive blend of a summer blockbuster and a military history. Only this time there’s an angry god, powder mages and gifted detective with nothing to lose.

All of the characters we came to enjoy from The Promise of Blood are back, some with an expanded role. Bo, a relatively minor character from the first book, is full of the confidence and snark you’d expect from a member of the Royal Cabal. His self-assured attitude and gifted ability to manipulate the Else (sorcery) made Bo a breakout character in this new volume and one of my favorites.

Meanwhile, Tamas and Taniel are facing their own problems as the Kez continue their war against Adro. Tamas is trapped behind enemy lines with only a small unit of soldiers. Cut off from anyone who could help, he is forced to manipulate the situation to his own advantage while he is pursued relentlessly. In the first book we only got a glimpse at why this man rose to the rank of field marshal. Finally, the famed tactician is shown to us. He rises to MacGyver levels of ingenuity to slow those dogging his heels.

Taniel, however, is facing his own problems. Tamas’ disappearance has left him in a precarious position as the new leaders of the military begin to question whether or not Taniel deserves to be a captain when he can’t follow orders. Oh, and he’s got a crazed, one-eyed god hunting him for revenge.

The plot is filled with constant action and excitement as McClellan deftly wields the mythology and characters of the world he’s created into something truly great. There will always be stories that are transparently flat, no more depth than what’s necessary to finish the plot. McClellan, like many great authors, has instead added layer upon layer to his books (and short stories) to create a world that thrums with the beat of its own heart.

McClellan has burst onto the fantasy scene with the explosive power of a powder keg. His books are among those that will be remembered for the genuine characters, tense conflict and inspired world where gunpowder fuels magic and white-gloved sorcerers vie for power. Simply put, it’s brilliant.

Book Synopsis:

When invasion looms…

Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

But the threats are closer to home…

In Adro, Inspector Adamat wants only to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers will lead Adamat on a darker journey.

Who will lead the charge?

Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN is the epic sequel to Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood.

Forsworn by Brian McClellan – Novella Review

Forsworn by Brian McClellan
Book Review

Forsworn-1.5-mbFor $0.99 Brian McClellan has been practically giving away short stories set in the same world as his Powder Mage Trilogy. Now, he has a new story up on his website, a novella this time for $2.99. Forsworn has the quality of story, depth of characters, and an increased page count that makes it all well worth it. Do yourself a favor and dive back into the world of powder mages, sorcerers, and gunpowder firearms. I promise, you won’t regret it.

This novella focuses on Erika ja Leora and a young girl named Norinne, both Powder Mages living in Kez, where such sorcery is punishable by death. While I keep yearning for a Tamas, Taniel, or Ka-poel story, McClellan is smart to keep such characters as cameos only. These short bits of writing are a wonderful exploration of new characters and the occasional reaction to the main characters is more powerful than any one story focused on Tamas or the others.

Once again, McClellan manages to write a wonderfully described world in the time of gunpowder and muskets. While the bulk of this book is set in a noble’s estate and in a carriage, it’s written in a way that feels more cinematic than many writers out there today. I could clearly picture the small practice yard used for fencing or the carriage making it’s way along a mountainside pass covered in snow. It was all realized with masterful writing that reaffirmed my initial opinion after reading Promise of Blood nearly a year ago – Brian McClellan is a writer of great visual skill.

The worldbuilding and history is setup in bits and pieces, as the novella length allows. The idea of powder mages being branded and the first look at the air rifles used in the books is a wonderful addition that makes the world feel real. This is tied directly into McClellan’s ability to stage and foreshadow his writing with a grace that isn’t seen as often as it should be amongst new writers. One particular bit of worldbuilidng concerning families who discover their children have the skill to be powder mages sent shivers down my spine later in the book, as I feared the worst. The fact that as I was reading the epilogue I was so emotionally invested as to shout at my ereader should be a marker for the author’s accomplished skills.

With the news that The Crimson Campaign, book two in the Powder Mage Trilogy, was pushed back to a new May release date, it’s comforting to see McClellan publish these short stories and novellas to keep us held over. It’s a brilliant marketing technique. The cheap price will give new initiates a chance to explore the world and Brian’s writing without feeling too guilty if they don’t like it. Fans of the first book are able to explore the world and the characters in more depth while they wait for the new book.

It’s a technique I hope more authors will take note of and adopt. Especially those authors, who shall not be named, who take 1+ years between books.

I haven’t had a chance to reread Promise of Blood since it came out last January. But these short stories have kept the world of Powder Mages and Privileged in my imagination. Be sure to pick up Forsworn and get immersed once more into the world of muskets and magic that Brian has so painstakingly created.

You can pick up Forsworn for your E-Reader of choice at his shop here.

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Summary:

Erika ja Leora is a powder mage in northern Kez, a place where that particular sorcery is punishable by death. She is only protected by her family name and her position as heir to a duchy.

When she decides to help a young commoner—a powder mage marked for death, fugitive from the law—she puts her life and family reputation at risk and sets off to deliver her new ward to the safety of Adro while playing cat and mouse with the king’s own mage hunters and their captain, Duke Nikslaus.

Hope’s End by Brian McClellan – Short Story Review

Hope’s End – A Powder Mage Review
by Brian McClellan

rsz_1371-1Brian McClellan is one of the biggest debut authors of 2013. His first novel, Promise of Blood, was a success. His writing is cinematic and holds such a strong visual component it really felt like the written word equivalent of seeing a summer blockbuster. Not only that but Brian turned out to be an incredibly nice guy, as this interview showed.

He’s also taken a different route than one normally sees amongst authors, releasing short stories set in the Powder Mage world periodically until the release of book two, The Crimson Campaign coming this February. Maybe this is a sign of the changing times and the power of the internet, but color me excited if this catches on amongst other authors. I can never get enough of the worlds I love and I’m sure everyone else here feels the same.

It was in June that Brian released The Girl of Hrusch AvenuePowder Mage short story that focuses on Vlora as a little girl. For $.99 on Amazon, I said that Girl of Hrusch Avenue was the perfect toe-dipping piece to decide if Promise of Blood was worth your time. (Spoiler Alert: It totally is and you should get it now if you haven’t already.)

But now he’s back with another short story. This one, titled Hope’s Endis a little bit different. It focuses on Captain Hopes-End_01Verundish, a female officer in the Adran military serving under General Tamas (years before the events of Promise). In the midst of a siege against the Gurlish stronghold of Darjah, Verundish must make a difficult decision to ensure the two people she loves most are taken care of.

Hope’s End is by no means the most lengthy of works, coming in right around 8,000 words. Yet what Brian manages to accomplish in that space is exciting and compelling. It’s hard not to feel a connection to Captain Verundish as she contemplates one dark decision after another, all to keep her daughter safe.

General Tamas, of course, is a treat to see, especially as it’s set in a time before his promotion to Field Marshall and the events of the first book. Unlike Promise of Blood Tamas as a General is still limited by his superior officers, forced to follow the orders of Field Marshall Beravich even when it conflicts with his own sense.

I won’t go too much further into the plot, 8,000 words and $.99 should be enough to get you to do that for yourself, but I will say the story is well worth it. It contains all of the elements of a longform novel distilled into the smaller space. The emotional hooks are there from the beginning and the rousing battle in the finale stirs your blood in excitement as you hope for success and dread the worst possible outcome.

Hope’s End is out now, either through services such as Amazon or at Brian McClellan’s own webpage.

Captain Verundish has two problems. On campaign with the Adran army and far from her homeland, she is helpless when the young daughter she left at home is threatened. To make matters worse, General Tamas has put her lover in command of a Hope’s End—the first charge through a breach straight into the teeth of enemy cannon and sorcery. To save the people she loves, Verundish will have to come up with a deadly solution…

The Girl of Hrusch Avenue – Short Story Review

The Girl of Hrusch Avenue: A Powder Mage Short Story – Review

The Girl of Hrusch Avenue is a $.99 eBook short story that gives readers a glimpse into the past of the Powder Mage world. Our titular character is Vlora, who readers of Promise of Blood will remember as a pivotal, yet minor, character that had a deep relationship with both Taniel Two-Shot and Field Marshal Tamas. Vlora was a character that received little page time in Promise yet had enough promise and mystery to spark readers’ imagination and wonder just who this person was.

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This short story tells of a time long before all of that. A time when Vlora was a young orphan living in an abusive home for girls, spending the majority of her time hiding from Amory, the mistress of the home. Instead she spent her time on the rooftops of Hrusch Avenue, relishing the smell of burning gunpowder from the gunsmith below and longing to feel the recoil of a stock against her shoulder as she fired a gun.

But it’s not all wistful longing and dreams for young Vlora. Thugs lurk the streets ofAdopest as in any other major city and Vlora has to spend time hiding lest she run afoul of them. On one side there is the Bulldog Twins, street children that have claimed Hrusch Avenue as their territory and attack any child younger or weaker than they. On the other is Baron Fendamere, a man renown for his cruelty even amongst the nobility, with stories told of his abuse and murder of women and children whilst on campaign.

But this is also the story of how Vlora met Taniel and his best friend Bo, and by extension Taniel’s father, Field Marshal Tamas. The beginning of a relationship that would last a lifetime and change the life of a young orphaned girl forever.

McClellan works hard to give us a small glimpse into a character’s life that was only hinted at in Promise of Blood. The writing is crisp and descriptive enough to evoke the necessary imagery of this Napoleonic era while still being streamlined enough to justify the short-story format.

Girl of Hrusch Avenue is a perfect, and honestly cheap, way to get a taste for the Powder Mage world. If Promise of Blood was on your maybe list, spend the $.99 and get immersed in a world that is both captivating and intriguing and a marked departure from the swords and prophecy tropes much of fantasy is rife with.

Brian has already said this is merely the beginning in a series of shorts meant to explore the world and his character’s backstories. My only complaint is that I wish these were not only longer but I had more to read right now.

The world of the Powder Mages has me absolutely enamored and I can’t wait to see what Brian has in store for us next.


Synopsis

“Vlora is an orphan living at a boarding school as a ward of the state. Even at her young age, she already has enemies: the Bulldog Twins, Baron Fendamere, and her own headmistress. When a strange man offers to buy her, Vlora runs away and takes to the roofs above the gunsmithies of Hrusch Avenue. Here she meets a boy named Taniel and begins a friendship that will change her life forever.”

Amazon Kindle Link
Barnes & Noble Nook Link
Kobo E-Reader Link

Read my Review of Promise of Blood Here:
My Interview with Brian McClellan here:

 

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan – Review

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise_of_Blood

The Powder Mage trilogy begins with Promise of Blood, a fantastic and engaging book from debut author Brian McClellan. Powerful sorcerers, trained Marksmen with magical abilities, and long forgotten gods bring color and intrigue to the world of Adro following a bloody revolution that has left the King and his royal cabal dead and a new government run by the people on it’s way to power. Promise of Blood is filled with engaging characters, original worldbuilding, and a plot that left me unable to put the book down until I finished two days later.

The blurb on the back of my ARC says “A fantasy debut perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks.” And I can honestly say that this is absolutely true. I found Promise of Blood to be an amazing amalgamation of these author’s writing styles. It has the cinematic quality of Brandon Sanderson, along with his talent for magic systems and worldbuilding, while touching on a bit of the dark and grittiness found in Weeks’ books, and a dash of Rothfuss’ way with words. Put simply, this is an engaging and wonderfully written work that is going to do great things in the Fantasy-genre this year.

As I mentioned previously, a large theme in this book deals with revolution. We start the book immediately following a bloody coup of the King and his sorcerers and it’s non stop action from there. Field-Marshall Tamas, his Powder Cabal – deadly marksmen who use gunpowder to fuel their magic -, along with his Council of supporters are left to manage a city that was deep in debt and ill-prepared for a shift in political structure.

Meanwhile Taniel, a gifted marksman who is also Tamas’ son, is sent to hunt a Privileged sorcerer who escaped the night of the coup. Alongside his partner, a savage girl named Ka-poel, they travel to a mountain fort that borders their nation of Adro with their enemy Kez. Taniel’s sections were always some of the more interesting. Addiction and the overcoming of personal and emotional obstacles being a prominent trait of these sections.

Meanwhile, Adamat, a retired investigator is hired by Tamas to put his detective skills to work uncovering mystery after mystery that started the night he killed the King’s sorcerer’s in their sleep. These chapters provided the most depth to the story and cast as he goes to any length to get the answers necessary to be payed.

Being a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson I have a weakness for well-thought out and original magic systems and Brian McClellan doesn’t disappoint. There are, depending on how you count them, either three or four magic systems shown in Promise of Blood. Of course the one that takes center stage is that of the Powder Mages. Gunpowder magic. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Magic that is fueled by gunpowder. It’s one of those concepts that once you hear it, you have to smack yourself in the head for not thinking of it first. McClellan handles this expertly, doling out information as needed to set the stage for a dramatic use of the magic system. The use of guns and gunpowder is a welcome breath in the fantasy genre. Instead of simply ignoring their presence in history, McClellan seized the opportunity and crafted the ability to kill an enemy from a distance into his narrative.

In true Fantasy style Brian leaves us wanting nothing but more, more, more at the end of Promise of Blood. There are more questions than answers and a level of excitement as you finish book one. The last one hundred pages goes by in a flash as you devour a finely crafted ending that leaves you desperate for more information. Luckily, The Crimson Campaign, book two, is already scheduled to be released in February 2014 and Orbit has released the gorgeous cover art to keep attention on this talented debut author.

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Part of me is hesitant to offer so much praise to a book, especially a debut novel. But as I write this review and I flip through some of my favorite passages I know it’s well justified. If you are a fan of epic-fantasy with a twist of the strange in execution and content, you’ll be mightily pleased by Brian McClellan’s debut novel, Promise of Blood.

Brian McClellan – Interview

The author of Promise of Blood, the first in a debut series titled The Powder Mage Trilogy, was kind enough to agree to an interview with yours truly. Here we take a look at his writing habits, his influences for Promise of Blood and a look at what’s coming next.

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  • To start things off why don’t you tell us all a little bit about the man behind the words?

I’m twenty-seven years old and I grew up just outside of Cleveland, OH. I’ve been married for a little over five years. I recently started keeping honeybees, and I’m an avid computer gamer and reader.

My debut epic fantasy, Promise of Blood, is coming out from Orbit Books on April 16th.

  • Would you mind taking us through a normal writing session for you?

I like to work in groups of scenes. I’ll spend about a week brainstorming the next four or five scenes in the book, which may end up anywhere between ten and twenty thousand words. I’ll write down little notes along the way and when I feel like I’m ready, I sit down and write.

Sometimes I’ll have some music playing softly in the background, but I really like to start off a writing session by watching or reading something interesting. Maybe it’s a movie or TV show, or a particular passage from a history book that really makes me think.

  • What was it like being a student of Brandon Sanderson and how much of an impact did he have on you and your writing style?

Brandon was awesome. He taught me how to sit down and write, and how to be both a businessman and a writer—which is absolutely necessary in today’s world. That, more than anything else, shaped my writing style.

A lot of people say not to try to write for the masses. I think that’s a load of crap. People will be reading this book. Or at least that’s the intention. I need to write it so that they will enjoy it. Is this part too long? That part too slow? Is this character memorable? These are all questions writers need to be asking themselves as they go along. Brandon taught me to ask myself questions like that.

  • What’s changed for you now that your first book is about to hit the shelves?

A year and a half ago, I had lost my poor-paying job and had absolutely nothing. My agent was insisting on more edits for Promise of Blood before she’d submit it (which, by the way, she was totally right about). I was depressed, penniless, and couldn’t find employment.

Now I’m about to be released in hardback internationally. While there is a whole new set of worries and stresses that come along with the release, you can’t imagine the relief I feel at being able to earn money doing what I love.

  • I have to through the most cliche’ question out there. Who are your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books?

I have too many favorite authors to list. Brandon Sanderson is up there, even though I haven’t had the chance to read his last couple. Joe Abercrombie is a personal hero of mine and can write no wrong. Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is about the damn coolest series out there. I’ve had a few people compare my writing to Brent Weeks’, which is a huge compliment because I love his stuff. I recently read the first two books in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series and really enjoyed them.

Same thing with books: too many. But my absolute favorites are Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo.

  • Now for the book itself, could you sum up Promise of Blood in a few lines for those who haven’t heard anything yet?

Promise of Blood is a second-world epic fantasy set during the world’s industrial revolution. It begins with a coup as Field Marshal Tamas, a sorcerer with the ability to manipulate gunpowder, deposes his foppish monarch and aims to give his nation back to the common people. Things get hairy and Tamas has to deal with royalist uprisings, a predatory neighbor nation, and superstitious riddles that any modern man should feel safe ignoring.

  • Promise of Blood has one of my favorite tag lines, “The age of Kings is dead… and I have killed it.” What made you want to focus on the theme of revolution?

It came with the time period. I had already decided on the early 1800s for a geo-political and technological basis for the book. I almost had to include a revolution.

  • What was it that made you decide to write in a world not only where gunpowder is common but features heavily in one of your magic systems?

I was brainstorming my next book and I wanted to do something completely unique for the magic system. I’d already decided to use flintlock muskets and rifles in the book. The next logical step was to base the magic around gunpowder used in those weapons. It was one of those moments where you say to yourself, “why hasn’t anyone done this yet?”

  • Your characters are each older than the standard teenager found in much of standard fantasy. Adamat, Tamas, and Taniel have each had their own adventures, is there any chance we’ll get to see any of this?

Who knows? We’ll see how people like the trilogy and if Orbit wants me to write more in that world. I certainly want to write more in that world. There are some very cool adventures that happen before the books that I hint at in Promise of Blood and I talk about more in The Crimson Campaign.

  • What comes next after Promise of Blood?

The Crimson Campaign, book two of the Powder Mage Trilogy, will be hitting shelves in February of 2014. I think that book three is scheduled for September of 2014, but don’t quote me on that.

Like I said, I’d love to write more in the world when this trilogy is finished, but I also have other worlds floating around in my head.

Promise_of_BloodCrimson Campaign 

Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan – Cover Reveal

I’ve had the fantastic fortune of reading an advance copy of Brian McClellan’s debut novel Promise of Blood and I can say without hesitation it’s going to be one of the major hits of 2013. Not only will I have a review coming shortly through my work at Fantasy-Faction but I will also be interviewing Brian later this month.

However, this past Friday, Brian and Orbit decided to release the cover art for book two in the series, The Crimson Campaign.

Crimson Campaign

Now I already thought the cover art for Promise of Blood was beautiful and this new cover does not disappoint. With Photo-Illustration done by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica and the design by Lauren Panepinto this truly is one of the more gorgeous pieces of book art I’ve seen.

Promise of Blood, the first book of The Powder Mage Trilogy is scheduled to hit shelves April 16, 2013 while The Crimson Campaign, book two, is due out from Orbit in February 2014.