Sins of Empire is one hell of a ride.
Never had I touched a Brian McCllelan book before this one, although his Powder Mage universe has received critical and fan acclaim alike–enough of both, anyway, even for someone like me, still too bloody busy reading classic works of fantasy (like the wonderful Black Company series.
I’m not certain how I ended up purchasing Sins of Empire for my Kindle; was it an AMA by the author, whose promise of gunpowder, blood magic and political intrigue caught my attention immediately? Or rather, was it simple word of mouth from the Fantasy community on Reddit?
Either way, I chose to take a risk and pick Sins of Empire up, electing to ignore the preceding trilogy; hoping that it wouldn’t cost me much in the way of entertainment and deeper meaning amongst characters and events to come.
I am happy to report that at no point in the book did I lack enough context to the events within Landfall (the city within and around which action takes place for the entirety of the novel), numerous as they were.
We follow four different points of view, excluding the prologue, and I can’t admit to anything but adoration for each of the major characters in the novel; we’ve got Michel, a spy in the employ of the Lady Chancellor’s Blackcoats — secret police of the nasty variety; Styke, a wrongly-imprisoned cavalryman, maimed and crippled by a failed execution; and Vlora Flint, my favorite character and the only returning major POV from the original trilogy. She’s a powder mage, and one hell of a badass — and a general of her own private company, the Riflejacks.
And we all know how I like mercenary companies…especially ones with certain principles guiding them.
The secondary characters are a fairly diverse cast of memorable arseholes, with the Lady Chancellor Lindet’s ruthless pragmatism and Fidelis Jes’…peculiarities. But if anyone takes the cake, that’d have to be Vallencian, the Ice Baron; a man with a silver tongue and a heart of liquid gold. Loved that guy.
But don’t take my word for it, have a quote or two!
On Lindet: “The Lady Chancellor was a thin woman of medium height with blond hair and a pair of spectacles that she removed every so often to rub on her sleeve. The newspapers often described Lindet’s eyes, and Vlora waited for some time for a good view before Lindet turned to face her. Vlora’s light powder trance allowed her to see Lindet as if they were standing nose to nose. Lindet’s eyes did not disappoint. Deep-set, darkened by makeup, Lindet’s gaze moved across the crowd again and again over the shoulders of her Blackhats. They were studious, critical, like a master craftsman checking her tools. Vlora remembered Taniel’s letters mentioning how Lindet might easily be mistaken for a librarian if not for those eyes, and how they had made his throat go dry every time they lit upon him.”
On Fidelis Jes, the commander of the Blackcoats: “In Michel’s experience, everyone had at least one peculiarity. Powerful people tended to have more extreme peculiarities because of their wealth. Some of them were hidden, some out in the open. Fidelis Jes’s was extremely public; even advertised. He had a standing invitation for anyone to try to kill him in single combat. No sorcery, no guns, no quarter.”
McCllelan’s prose, as you might’ve noticed, is clean and easy to follow; his style is pleasant, and Brandon Sanderson-esque in those most wonderful ways, if you will, without shying away from cussing — as Sanderson is prone to do.
Gunpowder adds a very welcome feeling of swashbuckling and adventure and adds a uniqueness to the Powder mages’ universe, which is rightfully the reason for the cult status the first trilogy received.
It’s a great piece of fantasy literature, and I’ll be looking forward to going more in-depth with a review over the summer; for now, though — this is one 2017-published book that is certainly worth your attention, dear reader.
I just can’t wait for the sequel.
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