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Promise of Blood: The Powder Mage Trilogy    by Brian McClellan order for
Promise of Blood
by Brian McClellan
Order:  USA  Can
Orbit, 2014 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's an exciting fantasy debut, Brian McClellan's Promise of Blood, the first episode in his Powder Mage trilogy. It opens on a scenario with the feel of the French Revolution (guillotine and all, but with magic thrown in) and just keeps on getting better and better.

Field Marshal Tamas (a powder mage) leads the coup. Why? Because the weak young king was about to sign a treaty with the Kez that would turn their country into a vassal state - the fact that the Kez had executed Tamas's wife might also have something to do with it. Tamas, his Marked (powder mages) and his soldiers killed the powerful royal sorcerors, the Privileged in their sleep, and rounded up the royal family and nobility for execution.

But as each sorceror died, he entreated, 'You can't break Kresimir's Promise'. What can that mean? Tamas enlists retired police inspector Adamat to investigate. Adamat finds that relevant records have been destroyed. He and his family are threatened. Yet he does uncover a conspiracy amongst Tamas's closest supporters, and is then tasked with identifying the traitor. In the meantime, Tamas hires a new bodyguard, Olem, a soldier whose Knack is to never need sleep - he will be needed.

During the coup, one very powerful (and previously unknown to Tamas) Privileged escaped. Tamas orders his son Taniel (a strong powder mage) to work with a magebreaker and with reckless Privileged mercenary Julene to track Rozalia down. Taniel is accompanied by young mute Dynize savage Ka-poel - they have saved each other's lives and she turns out to have unusual, and very useful talents.

Another plot thread follows Nila, a servant in a noble household, who has become close to the Duke's only child, Jakob. Nila hides Jakob from Tamas's soldiers and escapes with him to seek refuge among royalists. After the guillotine does its gory work, small Jakob turns out to be the heir to the throne.

Finally there is Taniel's best friend since childhood, Privileged Borbador who is at Shouldercrown Fortress, where someone is about to attempt to summon a god, and a Kez invasion is imminent. But, after the executions, Borbador is under a gaes, that will grow increasingly powerful, to kill Tamas. Will Taniel have to destroy his friend to save his father?

There are all kinds of intriguing plot threads to follow in Promise of Blood; betrayals at every turn; tough choices facing various key characters; and many individuals who are not at all what they seem (my favorite being Golden Chef Mihali, who is either a lunatic or a god). This is the best fantasy debut I've read in a long time and I can't wait for the next Powder Mage episode!

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