Every book Brian McClellan has written in the Powder Mage Trilogy has been better than the last, culminating in a conclusion that exceeded my already high expectations.
After PROMISE OF BLOOD introduced us to Tamas and Taniel and the rest of the outstanding cast of characters who are the heartbeat of making this story work, McClellan really stepped up his game with THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN, lending depth to Tamas’s character, developing the relationship between Taniel and Ka-Poel and moving the plot forward with plenty of action.
In THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC, all the groundwork McClellan laid in THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN comes to fruition with a flood of action at a breakneck pace. Somehow, even in the midst of all the plot McClellan churns through, he still manages to develop his characters in meaningful ways and complete their arcs in ways that are ultimately well-woven and very satisfying.
In my reviews of the first two books, I was critical of Nila, the one character I didn’t enjoy and who didn’t seem to have a role in the story — she just didn’t fit in a way that every other piece at McClellan’s disposal did. In THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC, she gets more POV time than any other character, and while this probably would have terrified me if I’d learned how prominent she would be beforehand, McClellan uses his time with her wisely, developing her into a character who, with just a bit of tweaking, suddenly fits seamlessly into the world and plot.
At TerribleMinds.com, McClellan gave what I found to be a fascinating description of how the character developed:
One of the viewpoints in the Powder Mage Trilogy is a young laundress named Nila. She kind of snuck into the Promise of Blood, with only a handful of scenes compared to the dozens of scenes for each of the other characters. I knew right from the beginning that she was going to be important, and I had an inkling of the direction I wanted to take her, but I wasn’t 100% sure where her road would lead. Most fans seemed fairly ambivalent about her and I was tempted to cut her role in Crimson Campaign.
But I knew she was going to be important. I left her in book two and gave her a couple more scenes. The consequences of her actions had a little more impact, and this had the desired effect: people seemed to become more attached to her journey. But they weren’t too attached to her. I was still tempted to minimize her part and let her plot line peter off.
Then when Autumn Republic came along, Nila managed to surprise even me. She was suddenly one of the most enjoyable characters to write, with cool, powerful scenes and a stronger plot arc than I’d given her in both the previous books combined.
After watching McClellan do a masterful job of developing his characters — even “minor” characters — it was impressive to see him take a character I hadn’t cared about through two novels and turn her into a major player in a novel that managed to up the tension over the first two books in the series.
Just as he stuck the landing with Nila, McClellan did an excellent job pulling everything together for a satisfying conclusion. He leaves a few threads hanging for a return to Adro with another series, but prioritizes the main characters and leaves them all with endings that make sense for their character arcs. That attention to character, even with a large cast of characters, is what separates McClellan and the Powder Mage Trilogy from much of the pack.