The Crimson Campaign review

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Crimson Campaign is the second novel in Brian McClellan flintlock Fantasy series, The Powder Mage trilogy. The series started with Brian debut back in 2013 with Promise of Blood, a book that I enjoyed a lot. The next and final novel, the Autumn Republic, was released earlier this year (February 10th) by Orbit books. 
'The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions' Tamas's invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy's best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god. In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might come too quickly. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god-chef Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir's advancing army. Tamas's generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye.
First, here's a recap of my review of the previous book:

Promise of Blood is a solid debut.  With the world and magic system set in place, I think that McClellan can now work extensively on the characters and story, which will certainly give us an even better novel next time. The author's prose is simple enough, straightforward and without unnecessary artifices but could use some more editing. Clearly, Flintlock Fantasy has found a promising new voice.

So, is McClellan still a promising new voice for Flintlock Fantasy? He sure is, however, the second book isn't giving the series a higher standard as far as I'm concerned. The story and character development are interesting enough but the novel is marginally less entertaining and captivating than the debut. It falls into some the bridging novel 'traps' and wouldn't stand really well on its own (not really a problem) but some threads present sufficient novelty to keep it refreshing and bodes well for a worthy finale for some characters.

We're still following the legendary Adran leader Tamas, his son Taniel Two-Shot, the weary detective Adamat and sometimes the young maid Nila. As far as the inspector's concerned, I wasn't always drawn in by his performance in Promise of Blood, his thread standing slightly on the sidelines, and this time, his journey's essentially a personal vendetta against the mysterious Lord Vetas. I struggled with some of it as it was hard for me to feel empathy toward him but at least, his ramblings created an opportunity to bring back the Privileged Borbador to the front (love him) and to uncover a deceit involving the political and military leaders of Adro. I'm not sure why Ricard Tumblar is still giving a damn about him.

Taniel is coping with the aftermath of his encounter with a God and his almighty follower Ka-Poel still watches over him. Sadly, we don't learn much about her and even if Gods are involved, they have stalled (that's one of the traps I'm talking about). In the mist of this delay is the battle between the Kez invaders and the defending Adran army. Taniel eventually comes to his senses and ensues a series of spectacular fights, self-degrading but justified rebelliousness against authority and this time around - again - the Powder Mage doesn't feel like a match for his foes. Still, I can't say that I didn't silently cheer for him. His day in the sun was long in coming and it was about time.

Meanwhile, his father is caught behind the enemy lines, with an insufficient force, fleeing from the Kez. Tamas finally has to prove what he's capable of on the battlefield, against all odds. Unlike many military books, I could grasp the situation easily and his plan felt brilliant in the circumstances. But the best part of it all was all along the road. Surrounded by his son's ex-fiancé Vlora, the taciturn and competent Olem, his brother in law and even an ex-love interest, everything's in place for a public airing of dirty laundry. Now that's a nice piece of work for the author. Tamas even managed to look really cool when fighting by himself and showing what a veteran Powder Mage can do. McClellan should focus even more on the aspects creating the originality of his world.

Aside from Adamas, even if she doesn't have the spotlight often, I could also add Nila to the list of less compelling protagonists. I hope that her role becomes more meaningful in the future for she's kind of boring right now... if it wasn't for Borbador, she would have been more than a drag. Moreover, I know that some readers mentioned that there's a lack of female PoV or even presence and I admit that's its kind of true. McClellan could work on this aspect for the good of his story even if I think that he shouldn't be blamed for it.

And then, one of my problems in the Crimson Campaign is with the 'villains'. We discover the background of the inscrutable Lord Vetas, but with all the means at his disposal and his many skills, in the end he didn't prove his competence. This can also be said for some subordinates of the God Kresimir and the mutants he creates.

With world building and the magic system clarification out of the way, the author had the liberty to work on the political contest in Adro, the Kez invasion and develop the characters further. While, as I have mentioned while analyzing the different protagonists, there are some nice scenes and overall storylines, the Crimson Campaign has a middle book syndrome and this forced the author to postpone important events (maybe not forced but it felt like it at times for me). Some resolutions could have helped but ultimately, I enjoyed the read.

I don't think that McClellan is reaching the level of quality of Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks, who I compared him with for Promise of Blood. However, The Powder Mage trilogy shouldn't be picked up solely for it's 'sub-genre' its a good series and Brian has a potential that I hope will be exposed more thoroughly in the last book.

Cover: For a second time, great job Orbit!
Release date: May 6th 2014
Map: Oh yes, several of them that you can find at the index, all by Isaac Stewart
Number of pages: 596 pages hardcover edition
Acquisition method: Physical copy courtesy of Orbit books
Other: No...

I liked...Was disappointed by...

Tamas having to prove himself in combat and being emotionally tussled

The stalemate between of the mighty forces, good or bad
Taniel's storyline but mostly for the second half of the book
The plots of Adamat and Nila

The pace and load of action sequencesThe 'villains'...

The Crimson Campaign review rating :


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