Just to get this out of the way, Brian is a client of mine and I’ve been typesetting/ebooking the novellas and short stories he’s written in the same Powder Mage universe so this review has some bias. Saying that though, this is still an honest review otherwise there would be little point in writing it. Luckily I really liked it.
Speaking of being honest, military fantasy is not my go-to genre, and traditional medieval-eurocentric fantasy is something I can take or leave (shock horror), which makes me a hard sell. The first book in this series, Promise of Blood, was one of the most enjoyable books I read last year but it also left me the most conflicted because of its ‘conventional’ use of female characters.
At the end of the first book I wasn’t sure the direction this series was headed but now it’s obvious that this is a full-on war story, if Promise of Blood laid down the battle lines, The Crimson Campaign digs the trenches and sets the stage for the bigger battle to come in The Autumn Republic.
McClellan has carved his niche in this saturated market by focusing in gunpowder. He has Powder Mages, military men and women, who use gunpowder to give themselves superhuman strength and speed. They can also control bullets and explode gunpowder at will.
There are other magics like those with a ‘knack’ like never needing sleep or a photographic memory, though these are minor compared with Privileged who can destroy a building with a wave of a hand. Power Mages fall somewhere in middle of that scale. And then there is also Ka-poel, with her ‘savage’ magics.
By the opening of the first book Field Marshal Tamas killed almost the entire of the Royal Cabal of Privileged. This is important because there is an incident early on here which isolates Tamas and his Powder Mages from the rest of his army, and in doing so losing Adro the tactical advantage with their war with the Kez.
And here is where my stamina for military fiction shows. There was a point about a third in were we keep going from Tamas marching through enemy lands to his son, Taniel Two-Shots, who is trying to keep the battle lines form falling back as the Kez press forward. I honestly thought of putting it down. There is only so much marching and fighting I can take.
And to be honest as I saw this was turning into big battle war story I imagined it was going to continue with an unending descriptions of fighting and marching but as we (Tamas, Taniel and I) push past that section it turns again and from then on I was again hooked.
There are three threads here. In addition to the two already mentioned Inspector Adamat is focused on saving his wife but to do so he has to investigate the mysterious Lord Vetus. These threads are picked up from the first book but unlike the first one, where all three really had the same goal, here we see them separate into their own stories.
McCellan keeps his chapters short and tightly focused so it’s not long before you’re catching up with what each of the three is doing and apart from that one section the pace keeps moving at good speed. Our author likes to keep the reader on their toes with twists and turns and revelations. He likes surprises as well and the build-up towards the end has an enjoyable reveal, which also sets a different the scene for the last book. And I like the main characters hadn’t seen it coming.
There are a couple odd moments where my enjoyment of the main characters overrode a nagging disbelief in the scenario but I was having too much fun to let that spoil anything. And without spoiling things for you the part I felt it the most is an escape scene where the lack of people being around is too odd not feel strange. But that’s a minor niggle.
As I said at the beginning I enjoyed The Crimson Campaign. Brian seems to have tried to address the issues with the female characters within the boundaries of his world and, as the middle book of a tilogy, it’s made me eager to find out what he has planned for his characters.
Bring on The Autumn Republic!