Promise of Blood – Brian McClellan

About the Book

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should.

560 pages (hardcover)
Published on April 18, 2013
Published by Orbit
Author’s webpage

This book was given to me to review by the publisher.


It seems like 2013 has been a good year for book releases so far. Furthermore, most of the debut books I’ve read have impressed me more than I expected them to. When I got my ARC of Promise of Blood, I was fairly excited. It’s made the review circles buzz. Most people who have read this book seem to have really liked it. I had big expectations, and in many ways, this debut book lives up to them all. However, like I say all the time, nothing is perfect.

Promise of Blood has a strong Brandon Sanderson connection which has been discussed in reviews over and over again. Suffice it to say, McClellan was one of Sanderson’s creative writing students (as I understand it) and this shows, especially in aspects of the magic system. Sanderson is known for some incredibly unique magic systems. For example, in his Mistborn books where people ingest metals and then manipulate them. McClellan follows in Sanderson’s footsteps. In this book, the powder mages somehow consume/snort/whatever gunpowder and their senses are heightened. They can control or redirect bullets. It’s all really interesting.

I have to say; while Sanderson’s magic systems are absolutely fascinating and incredibly unique, I found myself almost lamenting just how much McClellan let Sanderson influence his magic system development. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. However, regarding the powder mages, while fascinating and well thought out, they smelled a little too much like Sanderson’s Mistborn magic system and thus, I probably didn’t find them as unique and compelling as many other people did. In fact, for the most part, the powder mages felt like the Mistborn magic system only with guns. This disappointed me somewhat. While they are unique, they are Sanderson unique. I had hoped that McClellan would step out of Sanderson’s influence a bit more and make something that was signature to him and him alone. The good part about McClellan’s use of this magic system is that he keeps it rather refreshing in context with the other magic systems and social structures he uses in the book. Furthermore, there are some good nuances and downsides to it, like gunpowder addiction and historical tension with other mages that manipulate the “Else” and control elements. Regardless of my nitpicking, it’s easy to become rather fascinated by his magic system.

McClellan dumps the reader into a world in the middle of a rather chaotic change. The first bit of the novel is a crash course regarding a world in the middle of turmoil in almost every sense. The balance of powers have shifted. There was a political coup, the economy is changing, and the world is shifting in almost every sense. Drop in a few personal relationships and their own unique dynamics, as well as a fascinating magic system and you’ve got an engrossing, refreshing and action packed novel. Promise of Blood is a wonderful example of how authors can dump readers into the middle of an incredibly tense, chaotic situation and then proceed to build a lush world and magic system around them without any obvious infodumps or plot speed bumps.

There’s a little of everything in Promise of Blood, from a private investigation into a mysteriously uttered phrase, to obvious political and economic struggles regarding a coup, a civil war and problems calming down the populous of the city where all this takes place. It basically has everything a novel needs to make it interesting and it really works. However, Promise of Blood takes a turn toward the second half, and that is really where things fell apart for me and the novel’s weaknesses became more obvious. McClellan really offers his readers a well-written debut novel with very few hiccups with the flow of his prose. The problem arises with the more frequent changes of perspectives. Some perspectives went on far too long, and others not long enough. This left me feeling rather jarred by the pace and frustrated by how the plot seemed to struggle to stay together and focused on its primary goal toward the end.

McClellan has some solid writing, and I do feel a bit nitpicky for this point, but one of his primary struggles is with character development. Many of the characters felt a bit lopsided. Some of them were very well rounded like Taniel, and others just suffered, like the women. There are very few positively portrayed strong women in Promise of Blood. While I usually don’t pick on this point, it did get to be annoying, especially when repeated mentions of raping noble women were made, and a comment about wives needing to be more obedient. While I realize that each society has its own issues, and usually aspects of novels like this don’t bother me, for whatever reason, it just seemed more apparent in Promise of Blood. One character, Vlora, is the only female powder mage and has the potential to be an incredible character, but she’s wallpaper. McClellan missed an opportunity to present a unique female character with his lack of Vlora’s development, though I feel this will probably change as the series progresses.

In the end, this novel was an interesting mix for me. There are some excellent aspects, like some fascinating world building and a magic system that really is absorbing and unique (despite the fact that it is a bit too much Sanderson-esque in my opinion). The first half of Promise of Blood shows McClellan’s incredible capabilities as a fantasy author. The book is refreshing, unique, and has a bit of everything, from political turmoil to economic distress and some down and dirty PI work as well as plenty of blood. Promise of Blood falls apart in the second half, and it’s that second half that left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. I am very rarely upset by the portrayal of women in fantasy novels, but for whatever reason, the lack of positive, strong women, and how women were often referred to by men, really bothered me. Vlora was a missed character building opportunity, which I hope the author utilizes in further installments of the series. The pacing and flow was rather jarring due to frequent perspective changes and focus often lasting too long on characters that are just boring.

So what am I saying here? Promise of Blood is a great debut. No matter how much I complain about it, I can’t deny that McClellan has my attention and I’m very excited to see how he grows and develops as an author. His debut work is more polished than most debut books I’ve read and while it’s not perfect, it is absorbing. McClellan is an author to watch.


3/5 stars


5 Responses

  • I agree…Vlora should have been a viewpoint character.

    • Yes, she should have been. The fact that she wasn’t really bothered me, probably more than it should have.

  • I’ve had my eye on this one since the early reviews started appearing, and it really caught my attention. Especially with all the glowing reviews it was getting.

    I have to admit, though, that the comparisons to Sanderson kind of turn me away, since one of the things I’ve heard frequently about Sanderson is that his writing is practically by-the-book to a fault, and while the ideas may be creative the execution ends up somewhat predictable. Can’t confirm that myself, since I haven’t gotten around to reading him yet, but that thought does make me a little less eager to read Promise of Blood.

    Not enough to turn me away entirely, though, and I still very much want to give it a try and form that final opinion for myself. I appreciate your viewpoint on this one.

  • Great review. I normally don’t like guns in my fantasy novels, but the premise really sounds intriguing. I am adding this one to my reading list.

  • one

    In regards to Vlora, i think your missing the point.
    I saw her omission as being deliberate, and something that will be examined later…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.