An Explosive Ending … THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC by Brian McClellan

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, 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.


Good, but nothing new … RETURN TO HONOR by Brian McClellan

I’ve enjoyed all of Brian McClellan’s short stories set in the world of the Powder Mage trilogy so far, and RETURN TO HONOR is no exception. Featuring both Vlora and Olem, it includes two of my favorite supporting characters from the first two books of the tirlogy, and even includes Verundish, whom I believe we first met in HOPE’S END.

In RETURN TO HONOR, Captain Vlora is sent on the trail of a traitorous guard captain who is looking to escape the city with information that we’re told could harm the war effort. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a MacGuffin, but it gives Vlora an excuse to visit with Verundish for a bit of advice, and she in turn points Vlora to Olem as someone who can help.

Olem may be my favorite supporting character from the trilogy so I was excited to see him here, and the story is pleasant enough, but at the same time I can’t say this is mandatory reading for Powder Mage fans. The action scenes are well-done and we get some insight as to how Vlora is treated after cheating on Taniel, but I wouldn’t say there’s really anything new here.

PROMISE OF BLOOD by Brian McClellan

It took me a little bit of time to fully dive into the world of PROMISE OF BLOOD, but it didn’t take long for me to become fully engaged in a fantasy world that was completely different from anything else I’ve read before.

The story revolves around Tamas, a military commander who overthrows his king; his son, Taniel; and Adamat, an inspector Tamas hires to solve the mysteries that surround him as he attempts to establish a new government with enemies on all sides. McClellan does an excellent job of giving you a sense that each of these characters has a rich backstory full of powerful events that took place before the book ever started, allowing interesting aspects of their personalities to display themselves throughout the story. Even the secondary stories are fully realized, giving the story a welcome depth.

The story includes a number of different magic systems and I’m not sure I entirely understand them all, I really enjoyed many of our main characters’ abilities to use gunpowder to fuel their magic, as well as seeing the limitations of those magical abilities. It’s all very well thought out, and I have a feeling that as I read future books I’ll learn even more about the rules that govern magic in this world.

While the magic is strong, for me, it’s always about the characters, and I found myself enjoying all three of the main POV characters. McClellan does an excellent job of surrounding all three with interesting, likeable secondary characters I always want to learn just a bit more about.

I’ve already noticed that McClellan has several short stories for sale on the Amazon Kindle store, so I may read one or two to tide me over until THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN publishes next month.