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.

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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.

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 Thousand Names – Book Review

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler – Book Review

*Be sure to scroll down to see a mini-review of the short story, Penitent Damned,
Django released on io9 here.*

9780451465108_large_The_Thousand_NamesThe Thousand Names by newcomer Django Wexler is a gritty, soldiers’ novel that focuses more with life on campaign than traditional quest elements most often seen in fantasy. While a welcome departure from some of the tropes of fantasy it can at times feel more like a historical novel.

The story starts a little slow and doesn’t really start to pick up until around page 100. Despite this, Wexler has crafted a compelling narrative with characters that are quick to fall in love with. Those 100 pages, as well as the following 400, go by at a smooth pace and never really fails at keeping the reader’s attention because you can’t help but want more from both Winter and Marcus as their stories unfold.

The worldbuilding is interesting as Wexler chose to base his world on a time period that features the invention of guns and black powder. Combined with the varied faiths, racial distinctions as the soldiers lead a campaign on foreign soil, the glimpsed at magic system, and more, created a realistic and believable world that seems closer to a living breathing entity. There seems to be such depth to the world that if given this book as a child and told it was a historical account from our own world, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t believe it – despite the unfamiliar names and magic system that makes an appearance toward the end.

The story is told through the eyes of two characters, the first of which is Winter Ihernglass. Winter is a soldier in the Colonials, a force on the Khandar continent, who fled to the military to escape her past. Oh, and did I mention Winter is also a woman? In a tale similar to Mulan, Winter has found the best place to hide is in the military, where a woman is the last thing anyone would expect to see.

Things get interesting quick for Winter as she is quickly promoted to command and must use the skills she’s learned the few years in the military to lead and inspire her troops to continue marching and end a rebellion that’s brewed in the desert. I was always more excited to read her sections over Marcus as her character was relatable and easy to enjoy. Coupled with Wexler’s ability to blend enough mysteries concerning her backstory, it was easy to get drawn into the down-on-her-luck soldier as she’s forced to embrace command.

Opposite to Winter is Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, a commander of one of the Colonial garrisons. Despite wishes to the contrary he is soon put in a place of second-in-command to the new Colonel as he aims to end the rebellion and help restore the deposed Prince to his throne.

A soldier-type through and through, Marcus proved to be an interesting flip to Winter’s passages and while interesting always felt a little more stilted by comparison. The true shining moment in his chapters were the interactions with the new Colonel, Janus bet Vhalnich. A Napoleon Bonaparte inspired character whose tactical ingenuity, genius and oftentimes eccentric personality made him easily lovable and one of my favorite characters to read.

It takes a little while for any type of magic to make an appearance, yet Wexler manages to capture the audience’s attention in other manners, whether it be the powder smoke of battle or compelling characters that are forced to deal with surprising wrenches in the plan. When magic does finally get introduced it is very mysterious and mostly hidden, letting the readers imagination run a little wild with the tantalizing taste we’re given.

The narrative arc runs the risk of at times being slightly predictable but not in any way that was detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the events as they transpired. The end sets the stage wonderfully for The Shadow Throne with a return to the Vordanai continent as mysteries and secrets are revealed.

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

* * *

Penitent Damned by Django Wexler – Short Story Review

For anyone that missed the link at the top of the page, be sure to go here and read this amazing short-story set in the world of The Shadow Campaign Trilogy.

The Penitent Damned is a wonderful short story that sets the stage for the events to come in The Thousand Names. I originally read this before reading the novel but have to admit I think it’s more enjoyable if read after Thousand Names.

This story follows Alex, an apprentice under the master thief Metzing, as they return to a city they swore off forever for one incredible job. Only Vordan City is also the home of Duke Orlanko and his secret police the Concordat.

Unlike The Thousand Names, this short story doesn’t waste any time in showcasing the magic of the world and some of the mysteries that are only glimpsed at in the novel.

It’s a wonderful story that brings depth to the worldbuilding and a taste of what’s to come as the series progresses. Alex is a fun character with an interesting set of skills and I hope that she will be making a future appearance in the series.

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.

girl-of-hrusch-avenue-cover_FNL_02-e1372366105554

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:

 

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.