One down, two more to go. I had started a couple of nonfiction books, but they just haven’t been holding my attention. So let’s go with a novel instead.
Title: Blood of Empire
Author: Brian McClellan
This is the culmination of the second trilogy in the Powder Mage universe, one of my absolute favorite fantasy settings ever. And that includes the ones I’ve made. (To be perfectly honest, at least one of them came about because of the original Powder Mage series.)
I’m just going to say this right now: I loved this book. It took four days to read, longer than its 650 pages would indicate, but that’s because I read it before going to bed each night, and work means I can’t do the eight-hour marathon reads anymore. But every minute was worth it. Every page was worth it.
With what’s effectively the sixth and final book in a series, you would expect a lot of action. And you certainly get it. This being epic fantasy with guns, you’d expect something climactic and almost apocalyptic. You get that, too. At no point did I feel like there was a wasted chapter. Some scenes did drag a little, but the pacing was relentless almost the whole time.
If anything suffered, it was the characters. Vlora, one of the three protagonists throughout this series, seemed a little dull. Part of this was because of her story arc, which involved recuperating from a near-mortal injury at the end of the previous book; that’s forgivable, though it was odd that she became the character I was least interested in reading. Of the other two, Styke was good at the beginning and end, but otherwise felt…impotent; Michel (note: he and I do not share a name!) actually grew on me. The rest of the cast, however, struck me as lackluster. They were there because of the action, rather than being the causes of it. In other words, this is very much a plot-focused novel, not a character-focused one. But that’s epic fantasy for you.
It’s a small price to pay, if I’m honest. It was good to let go for a change, to turn my mind off and get lost in a world again. And what I read felt like the end of an era. The storylines were resolved, although McClellan did leave a tantalizing hook for a future sequel; that annoyed me at first, because it seemed like the perfect excuse for a set piece. We also got an almost literal deus ex machina and a country full of ginger ninjas. I don’t know whether to count those as points for or against.
Most importantly for today’s world, I feel, is that Brian McClellan was able to write without getting bogged down in external politics. Yes, half of the Adran generals are women. Quite a few of the men are, to put it in internet parlance, cucked. Yet that never causes a problem. There’s a very, very oblique reference to one of the enemy leaders possibly being a lesbian, but even that’s more of a footnote, rather than the blazing neon sign some other authors would use. Nobody is going on about trans rights or other nonsense. The racial issues are handled very well. That’s refreshing to see, and I think it helped my enjoyment of the novel.
Riflepunk, like any other subgenre of fantasy, isn’t for everyone. But if you’re interested in mixing magic with firearms, the Powder Mage series is one of the best introductions. Start with Promise of Blood. By the time you get to Blood of Empire, you’ll be as hooked as I am.