ARC Review: The Autumn Republic

WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS FOR BOOK THREE IN A TRILOGY AND NECESSARILY SPOILS THE FIRST TWO. IF YOU HAVEN’T STARTED, YOU SHOULD PICK UP PROMISE OF BLOOD.

1401814365527

From Goodreads:

The capital has fallen…
Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided…
With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.

All hope rests with one…
And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed…

Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book for free from Brian. This has in no way affected my review.

Brian McClellan is one of those authors who has managed, so far, to get better with every book. He also writes at near Sandersonian levels of speed, not only producing a large novel every year, but many side projects, including multiple novellas, short stories, and even another (unpublished) novel in the mean-time, while still managing to keep up the quality of everything. But this review isn’t about the novellas, though I certainly talk about them at some point. Rather, I’m here to talk about his latest novel.

Promise of Blood was a good, fun ride. It didn’t utterly blow me away, and there were some minor problems throughout that kept me from being fully engaged. The Crimson Campaign improved on Promise of Blood in many ways, delivering a rousing, brilliant ride with the characters McClellan had introduced us to in the first book.

The Autumn Republic, the final volume in the first power mage trilogy, is somehow even better, perhaps because it manages to capture all of the magic of The Crimson Campaign while adding the inevitable adrenaline rush and satisfaction of tying up so many plot threads at once.

The characters continue to grow more engaging—especially Nila, whose powers were revealed at the end of The Crimson Campaign. It was refreshing to see her get a larger role in the story, and it also gave some very interesting insights into the life of a privileged, where the rest of the story has been told almost completely from the view of the powder mages. I like her, and was glad to see these viewpoints, as it also helps with the gender balance of the viewpoints, something previously held up almost solely by Vlora.

The war worsens, and we are able to witness first-hand some large, deadly, horrific battles. In particular, for the first time, we get to see Adamat’s perspective on the battles, rather than simply his detective work and one-on-one fights, and I felt sorry for him more than any other character in the novel. He’s very well written here, and I hope we get more Sherlock Holmes style novellas from his viewpoint, novellas like Murder at the Kinnen Hotel.

Tamas and Taniel and their various friends continue to kick some serious butt as powder mages, and watching them fight is always a pleasure.

The plot itself is perhaps the most engaging part of the novel, and not only because it happens to such engaging characters. McClellan manages to ratchet up the tension on almost every page. I read this book as an electronic version on my phone, something I almost never do. I love the feel of a solid physical book in my hand too much, my phone screen is much too small, I get too distracted by the internet, and the light prevents me from going to sleep quite as quickly after reading in the evenings. Despite all of these things, I tore through The Autumn Republic in record time, finishing it in 3 days total, during an intense period of the semester, simply because I could not put it down—I was always picking my phone up to read one more page, one more section, one more chapter. And then another. Many epic fantasy authors—GRRM, Sanderson, Rothfuss—will give you permission to set the book down between chapters to relax and process what has happened. But like Staveley or Weeks, McClellan demands that you keep reading, and several hundred pages feels like only a few dozen by the time you’re done—and wonder how many hours ago the sun went down.

While it is clear that The Autumn Republic is the final volume in the trilogy, wrapping up all of the large plot threads and many of the minor ones as well from the first two books, it is by no means the end for the universe. The ending is bittersweet and powerful, and none of your favorite characters may be safe. It ties up everything that is truly important, while leaving some questions hanging and giving meaning to the fact that the story doesn’t end when the book does—and neither does it begin on the first page. The ongoing story leaves plenty of room for the next trilogy, which McClellan has, excitingly, already started writing.

In summary, The Autumn Republic is a fitting, bittersweet end to a brilliant trilogy that got better with every book, making some of my favorite characters even more important and expanding the conflict to truly terrifying levels and finally, after hundreds of gripping pages, tied up many threads, leaving me satisfied, yet already drooling for the beginning of the next trilogy in the powder mage universe. Five of five unabashed stars, and if you’ve read the first two, get it now. If you haven’t, why are you here? Go pick up Promise of Blood today and get yourself started—you can come back and thank me when you’re done.

Brian’s Website.

Amazon.

Goodreads.

Hope’s End

This post is a bit of something new for me, and if people like it, I’ll try to do more of these. Today’s post is a review of a short story, Hope’s End. But first, I’ll tell you how I found the author.

Back at the beginning of the year, Brandon Sanderson made a post to say that a former student of his, Brian McClellan, had a book, Promise of Blood, coming out in April. I went and followed him on Twitter, and the combination of his marketing and Sanderson’s recommendation led to me buying his book on release day and reading it soon after. I enjoyed it.

While waiting for the second book in his trilogy, The Crimson Campaign, to come out, McClellan has written some short stories set in the same universe, which he calls the Powder Mage universe, named after his unique gunpowder-based magic system.

The second of these stories, Hope’s End, is now out, link at the bottom. I’ve had a chance to read the story, which comes in at around 8,000 words. You can read a teaser (the first scene) here.

Our protagonist, Captain Verundish, is contemplating suicide. Her husband has threatened to sell their daughter into slavery, and her heart belongs to another man, but her father, the priest that married Verundish, does not believe in divorce. She sees death as her only escape.

In the teaser, McClellan manages to give us the conflict as well as define the main protagonist and make us sympathetic to her. He then tells her story. Without giving any spoilers, I will say that I was deeply pleased by the resolution of this story. It was believable, and at the same time, satisfying in a way that few short stories are.

Throughout the story, we are reminded that we are in the Powder Mage universe, and we get some glimpses of General Tamas, one of the main protagonists of Promise of Blood, as he leads the army. The magic of the universe is in this story as well. However, you do not need to have read Promise of Blood to read Hope’s End, as all of the relevant information is explained in the story. If you have read Promise of Blood, the explanations may feel a little redundant, but not overly so.

At the climax of the story, there is a battle scene, which is well written and engaging. It fits with the gritty, “flintlock fantasy” style that I enjoyed throughout Promise of Blood. McClellan did not skimp on the scene because of the length of the story, and it alone makes the story worth reading.

We also get glimpses of some of the larger-scale politics of the Powder Mage universe, and as someone who has read Promise of Blood, they were quite fun to read, but not intrusive to the plot of this story.

I went in afraid that McClellan had written something that would explain an event in Tamas’ past, with only some semblance of a story on top of it. I should have known better after reading Promise of Blood. Instead, he has written a complete and engaging story that shows the events on the side, creating a nice balance of the larger universe and the smaller story.

You can buy Hope’s End from Brian’s website here, for only $0.99, and it’s well worth it. It’s also worth noting that for this month only, the Promise of Blood e-book is on sale for $1.99, and also well worth it. (I bought it even though I already have the hardcover.)