Yes, I know this one has been out since last spring. I’m behind, okay? Don’t try to tell me you’re current on your TBR pile, ‘cuz we both know better.
Anyway, if you like military fantasy set in an Industrial Revolution type setting, with lots of action, intrigue, guillotines, and not a few surprises, then this a book for you. I mean, just look at the cover. I saw it and was immediately hooked.
Field Marshall Tamas has lead a coup against the king of Adro. The king was going to sign a treaty basically enslaving Adro to the neighboring kingdom of Kez. He says he’s done it for the people, and unlike most military takeovers, he’s on the level. He’s got a group of civilians in on the plot with him to help him rule.
Tamas is a powder mage, a sorcerer whose powers are limited to guns and gunpowder. They are natural enemies of ordinary sorcerers, called Privileged. Tamas slaughters the king’s cabal of sorcerers, but before they die they each warn him about breaking Kresimir’s Promise.
Kresimir is the god who founded Adro and the other Nine Kingdoms. He’s been gone a long time, like about a thousand years. Tamas hires retired police inspector and now private investigator Adamat to find out what this warning means. Every reference Adamat checks has pages missing, all of them relating to Kresimir’s time.
Add to this several people who appear to be Privileged. But no one has ever heard of them and they have powers far beyond those of any Privileged. Tamas’ son Taniel has returned, accompanied by a young barbarian woman with strange powers and without his fiance, one of the most powerful powder mages in the kingdom. Then there’s the new chef who has attached himself to the army. He’s an escapee from a mental institution who literally works miracles with food. (He would have to work miracles to make squash soup edible, and several characters mention how good it is.) He claims he’s the reincarnation of a god.
McClellan has created a world that I want to return to. None of his characters are perfect. Tamas is cold and calculating and willing to kill almost anyone who gets in his way. Adamat is compromised by the debt he carries from a failed business venture. Taniel is becoming addicted to the rush he gets when he sniffs gunpowder. The other supporting characters come across as real people as well.
Yet each of these are sympathetic people. They might not always make the best decisions, but we understand why they do the things they do. The villains, and you won’t initially know who they all are, are delightfully evil.
If you’re in the mood for a good, highly readable dark fantasy that isn’t a carbon copy of medieval Europe, look no further. The sequel, The Crimson Campaign, comes out in February. I’ll be waiting for it.