Book Review: Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Gods of Blood and Powder
Publisher: Orbit (March 7, 2017)
Length: 624 pages
As you know, I’m quite a fan of Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, and so I was thrilled when I discovered he was planning to write a new series called Gods of Blood and Powder set in the same universe. Sins of Empire is a return to this world of magic and war, taking place approximately ten years after the end of The Autumn Republic. While the main cast may contain a few familiar faces, this novel is in fact a new story taking place in a new setting, so whether you are an old fan looking to dive back into the world or a newcomer contemplating this as a possible place to jump on board, this book is accessible to all. (However, a small caveat: if you haven’t completed the Powder Mage trilogy yet and do intend to at some point, keep in mind Sins of Empire may contain some spoilers especially for how that series ends.)
The story begins by depositing us in Fatrasta, a relatively young nation that recently gained independence through a violent, bloody war. Still, despite its turbulent political landscape, the country is booming—travelers from all walks of life are flocking to its borders looking for new opportunities, from criminals feeling prosecution from their nations of origin to intrepid settlers that see this new land as fresh start for their families. Then there are the mercenaries, come to Fatrasta to enjoy the patronage of Chancellor Lindet who governs her land with an iron fist. Among them are the Riflejack army, led by Lady Vlora Flint and her partner Colonel Olem, veterans of the Adro Revolution which took place a decade ago. When an insurrection threatens to destabilize Fatrasta even further, Vlora and Olem are called back to the capital city of Landfall to help put down the rebellion and root out its leader, a mysterious rebel known as Mama Palo.
Meanwhile in a high security labor camp, a convicted war hero who helped win Fatrasta her independence fails to make parole. Angry and demoralized, Ben Styke is just about to accept that he will never taste freedom again when a strange visitor claiming to be a lawyer shows up and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Somewhere else, an ambitious spy named Michel Bravis receives a dangerous assignment to track down the individual or groups responsible for printing and distributing an anti-government publication called “Sins of Empire”. Even though he feels woefully unqualified for such detective work, Michel has no choice but to accept the mission. After all, this may be the path to earn him the promotion he’s always wanted…though on the other hand, failure could mean much more than his downfall.
Together, these separate threads make up the story of Sins of Empire. In classic epic fantasy fashion, we follow and bounce around between the perspectives as the narrative builds, until all the plot lines converge. Those who have read the Powder Mage books will already be familiar with Vlora who was a supporting character in the original trilogy, but now it’s her chance to be a main protagonist in her own right. I must confess, it was a real treat for me to catch up with her again. Thinking back to when Promise of Blood first came out, one criticism I had of the book involved the underutilization of the female character POVs, and even when compared to Nila and Ka-poel, Vlora received relatively little attention. Oh, how the tables have turned now. Despite the popularity of Ka-poel, it is Vlora who I’ve always had a soft spot for, and it was a joy to watch her take charge and shine bright in this series opener.
Credit must also go to newcomers Ben Styke and Michel Bravis, since they too helped make Sins of Empire a strong introduction. While neither of their stories are as interesting to me as Vlora’s at this point, the good news is I can easily see their roles expanding beyond what they are now with future books, and hopefully in time they will become more than just “violent brute with a heart of gold” and “neurotic spy” respectively. However, it’s important to note as well that both their sections provided a bit of mystery to this novel, adding to the suspense as little by little the characters uncover more secrets behind the rebellion in Falastra, not to mention a few shocking revelations. I loved the unexpected twists and game-changing surprises, and I have no doubt these will also be greatly appreciated by other Powder Mage fans!
In addition, the author has clearly learned a lot from completing his debut trilogy. Sins of Empire is solidly written, and as the first book of a series, I feel the plot is also more compelling and better constructed compared to Promise of Blood. All in all it is a great introductory volume, accomplishing its goal of setting up a strong foundation, at once familiar but also different enough from the original trilogy that I find myself excited to see where McClellan will take us next. The ending teases much more to come, and I can’t wait for more answers in the sequel.