This was a good book. McClellan wastes no time getting to the action by putting the reader in the middle of a bloody military coup and its aftermath. Field Marshall Tamas succeeds in the overthrow of an inept monarchy which sets up the plot threads of the story: Tamas must restore order, prevent a foreign invasion, and thwart the remnants of the royalists who would summon a god to restore the monarchy.
In McClellan’s world magic exists in several forms:
The Privileged: people who can access the “Ether” and manipulate the world around them. They resemble typical sorcerers- throw fireballs, summon lightning bolts, and shake the earth.
The Marked: also called Powder Mages. Soldiers who are able to “burn” gunpowder magically. Through their ability, they can alter the path of projectiles and explode gunpowder without a spark. Ingesting gunpowder makes their senses become sharper and increases their physical endurance.
The Knacked: They are people with a single unique magical gift or talent. Not as powerful as a privileged or marked, but, their range of abilities adds interesting characters and elements to the story.
Tamas leads a cabal that includes his powder mages, the church, a mercenary private army, the leader of the local underworld, and the leader of the city labor unions. One plot thread in the book concerns how this cabal goes about establishing a new political order and re-stabilizing the country. Complicating this task is the realization that there is a traitor in the cabal. Adamant, a knacked former police investigator, is hired by Tamas to ferret out the traitor(s).
The second major plot thread is led by Tamas’s son (and powder mage), Taniel, as he is sent to re-enforce a strategic border fortification facing assault by an invading army.
What ties these two threads together is the third arc, the privileged/royalists who plan on putting an end to Tamas’s revolution by summoning a god. – where does this god need to be summoned? At the same fortress that Taniel needs to hold to prevent an invasion. The last quarter of this book is whirlwind of action as all three plot arcs come together in epic fashion.
The only complaint I have is that, with so very many characters doing so very many things in so very many places, the characterization suffers. We don’t really get to know any of these people well enough to “fall in love” with them. It is a common complaint I have that current fantasy books seem intent on being trilogies instead of a stand-alone story. For me, it weakens the prose. It’s as if the author knows he has two more books to use to bring his characters to life, so there isn’t the sense of obligation to the reader to fully flesh out the cast. I know some characters are in this book solely as a set-up for the subsequent books and I feel sort of short-changed. I want to be fully invested in the central characters of this book and this story arc.
It’s a good read and I will be adding the second book, The Crimson Campaign to my list of anticipated books for next year.