Review: Sins of Empire
I’ve been meaning to read this guy’s books for quite a while now. Well, ever since his first book came out, because I heard it was pretty awesome, and how could you not love a story that mixed magic with black powder? For whatever reason, though, I just never picked one up. Until I listened to him speak at a writer’s convention. He mentioned something about how awesome Daniel Abraham’s most recent fantasy series was, and I figured if the guy loved Abraham’s method of storytelling, then he likely wouldn’t have written a bad book about black-powder mages, which was still a freaking cool idea, and I should give the guy a shot. The sooner the better. And after reading it, I think if you haven’t read his books yet, then you should “give him a shot” too. Ha. I kill myself sometimes.
SINS OF EMPIRE (Amazon) is the first in a new series, Gods of Blood and Powder, from Brian McClellan, author of the Powder Mage Trilogy and a large number of short stories and novellas set in the same world. I kind of jumped in mid-stream to this one, and now that I know he’s awesome, I have tons of stuff to read, dang it. (Ah, my ever-present love-hate relationship. I’m still trying to catch up with Malazan for crying out loud…)
The story occurs in the port city of Landfall in the country of Fatrasta and is split between three main POV characters:
Vlora Flint: Leader of the Riflejacks, a mercenary army that has been putting down revolts by the Palo people. She and her soldiers are called back to the city of Landfall to root out a rebellion that is brewing within its major Palo slum.
Michel Bravis: A Blackhat (policing force of Landfall) recruiter that is asked to be the liaison between Vlora Flint and the Fatrastan leadership residing in Landfall, while also tracking down the source of a large number of pamphlets entitled “Sins of Empire” which contain propaganda against the Fatrastan government.
Ben Styke: A giant of a man that used to be the Colonel of the Mad Lancers in the recently-ended Fatrastan war. He was betrayed by his superiors and sent to the Landfall prison labor camp. He’s stayed there of his own free will for the last eight years, but is released by a mysterious benefactor that hires him to keep an eye on Vlora Flint.
In simple terms, I found Vlora interesting, Ben engaging, and Michel somewhat boring. Each is characterized quite well, though, and it was easy for me transition between them. Each of them brought to the story their own individual aspect. McClellan has done some good world-building here, especially with regard to nations and their various histories. On a smaller level, I had a somewhat difficult time getting a feel for the city of Landfall. Detail and surroundings, when present, were fairly sparse. There were several main locations in which the story took place and even those at times felt pretty meager in the realm of detail.
In the same breath, though, I have to mention that this book was very directed and purposeful. There were very few places where I could have said that something in the book might not be absolutely essential to the story at large. And that’s saying something. Especially when you compare it to other Epic Fantasy Tomes. When books get that big, they just tend to have stuff that feels like filler. I don’t remember a single instance while reading this book when I felt like that, though. So, pick your poison, I guess.
On the whole, the pacing of the story was great. The characters were always moving, always making choices to drive them to their goal. Always coming up against obstacles that would turn them in a different direction. Throughout was painted the mystery of the one behind the propaganda pamphlets and how they may or may not be connected to each of the POV characters. There were a couple of times when I got annoyed at something that happened. For those of you that have read the book already, these dealt with “the marble” and the Blackhat chain of command. Not story-killers, but pretty annoying regardless. And the magic system had a Sanderson-esque flair to it, though it came into use in the actual story only very little.
Despite a few flaws, SINS OF EMPIRE has great characters that make it a worthy read. Plus there's more powder mages, and who doesn't love them?
The biggest issue I had with it was the lack of rising tension throughout toward some satisfying end. The major climax of the story kind of felt like it came out of left field and had very minimal foreshadowing. So it kind of left me feeling a little unsatisfied. On the positive side of things, though, this book totally made me want to go back and read the Powder Mage Trilogy. So, in the end, it must have done quite a lot of things right. Which it did.
Absolutely worth the read and the purchase. Will be looking for time to get to those older books and looking forward to what he has for us in the future.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Infrequent but fairly strong
- Violence: Pretty high amidst the powder-magic, battle sequences, and personal duels
- Sex: A few references