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Book Review: Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

Title: Sins of Empire

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: Gods of Blood and Powder #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The young nation of Fatrasta is a turbulent place – a frontier destination for criminals, fortune-hunters, brave settlers, and sorcerers seeking relics of the past. Only the iron will of the lady chancellor and her secret police holds the capital city of Landfall together against the unrest of a suppressed population and the machinations of powerful empires. The insurrection that threatens Landfall must be purged with wile and force, a task which falls on the shoulders of a spy named Michel Bravis, convicted war hero Ben Styke, and Lady Vlora Flint, a mercenary general with a past as turbulent as Landfall’s present. As loyalties are tested, revealed, and destroyed, a grim specter as old as time has been unearthed in this wild land, and the people of Landfall will soon discover that rebellion is the least of their worries. -Goodreads

The Review:

So damn good! McClellan is now definitely among my conservative list of favorite authors, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for me next!

Just like the entirety of the Powder Mage Trilogy, Sins of Empire absorbed me completely from start to finish. It’s a slow-burn story that built beautifully to a snowball ending that had me on the edge of my seat!

External conflicts aside, the true beauty of this author is his ability to develop characters. They feel like real people, which might be the magic X-factor that pushes books over the edge into “phenomenal” for me. These characters have so much depth, and he doesn’t even bother telling you outright some of their quirks and tendencies, but chooses instead to reveal them casually so you can make your own assumptions. It’s brilliant. But what’s even more impressive to me, and what makes these stories so damn good, is how these amazing characters relate to one another. The bonds between them are magic. And because of that, every single scene has meaning and relatability. Of all the novels I’ve read, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it done better. Add to that situational humor that delights me to no end, and we have a winner.

After finishing the book, I checked out a bunch of other reviews and was surprised to discover how many people don’t like Vlora (not as a side character, not as a main character, not in a house, not with a mouse). I guess I can understand to a degree their objections, because she’s a little more understated (not underdeveloped, imo) than the other characters in the series. But… that’s kind of what I liked most about her. She has this calm, unfaltering conviction that I loved seeing played out in different situations. I like that she’s had to put personal needs and wants aside to maintain her high-ranking position, but she still has a few soft spots that come out during more vulnerable moments (which I personally found the most endearing). And I love that her success is often based on the good relationships she builds with others. So, zero objections here on that front – I’m excited to see where her story goes next.

Recommendations: It is truly few and far between that a book can hook me as wonderfully as this one did, and I’m grateful it’s only the first book of a continuation trilogy. I don’t hand out 5 starts very often anymore these days (perhaps 2 or 3 per year), so take this as an endorsement of a series I really stand behind as a solid recommendation. Start with Promise of Blood (which incidentally got one of my precious 5-stars last year). Amazing characters, great story, good magic system, brilliant writing… all the things! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [January 2019]

Niki’s Book Journal [January 2019]

I’m not gonna lie – these last few months have been difficult. So much so that I’ve been having trouble concentrating on reading, let alone finding the brainpower to compose reviews. For me, hardship always inspires opportunity for growth – the chance to make your life even better than before you got knocked down. And that’s exactly where I’m at in my journey. I finally find myself excited to read again, excited to talk books, excited to jump back into this community I love so much. So thank you to everyone who stuck around when I dropped off the planet. :)

To the mini reviews!


Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa [1.5/5 stars]

This is my first foray into Julie Kagawa’s works. While there were a lot of individual components to the story I liked, overall I found it a struggle to get through. The story had a vibe suitable for older teens, but the dialogue was so simplistic and straightforward that it felt like reading a middle grade book. It made it impossible to take any of the characters seriously (especially the villain). Despite that, the book flowed really well and had a good fun-factor element (after all, a half-kitsune MC is pretty cool… parts of the story also reminded me strongly of Kung Fu Panda haha), so I’m sure I’m in the minority with my rating. Perhaps this author is just not for me. #cantwinthemall

Return to Honor by Brian McClellan

Return to Honor (Powder Mage #1.5) by Brian McClellan [4/5 stars]

As the Powder Mage trilogy has officially become one of my favorite series (Promise of Blood was superb!), it’s no surprise I found myself eager to tackle some of the novellas. Return to Honor added depth to a few great side characters in a way that made the main books feel more completed. I can see why the scenes were excluded because it would’ve sidetracked the main plot too much, but I’m delighted I still got to experience it. If you haven’t read the series yet, I’d highly recommend picking this novella up within it. :) There are a bunch of short stories that go along with the series as well, but I was too impatient to get on with the series to make time for them… I hear they’re also good though lol.

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #7) by Naomi Novik [3.5/5 stars]

I’m not sure yet how I feel about the series as a whole, but I’ve found myself picking up these novels for a very specific Temeraire “fix,” if that makes sense. The books are all fairly similar but the highlight continues to be the dragons. This novel had them exploring the Australian Outback… basically on the periphery of the Napoleonic War (again), and even though not much happened, per se, I still enjoyed the interplay between the dragons and humans. I’m not getting a lot of substance from these later books, but I’m still glad I’m reading them and I think that’s because the dragon “fun-factor” is strong enough in each book to keep me coming back. It’s also exciting to find out each new tangent destination haha.

Bite Club by Rachel Caine

Bite Club (Morganville #11) by Rachel Caine [2.5/5 stars]

Something about the relationship drama in these books stresses me out. The types of things they fight about would be deal breakers for me, and I find myself less and less satisfied with both the romance and the love interest. I also feel like it’s kind of endorsing unhealthy practices in teens and putting a strong emphasis on “the guy comes before your own wellbeing.” HOWEVER… it also adds and authentic feel to the story and the characters are very believable. So for that reason, I’m not totally mad at it. For the first time, I finally feel like I’m grasping what the final arc of the series might be and that has me more interested than I’ve been in a while to see what happens next. Unrelated: I didn’t get the title reference until just this moment, and it delights me a little lol.


I hope you all had a great month! :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Title: The Promise of Blood

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: The Powder Mage #1

Genre: Fantasy (Flintlock)

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it. It’s a bloody business overthrowing a kingField Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces. Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail. -Goodreads

The Review:

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Promise of Blood.

The best components were the characters. It struck me as profound in several places of the book how damn good McClellan was as creating deep connections between his characters to the point where it felt like reading about real people (making it all the more poignant when something happened to one of them). Most authors tell you there’s a connection, McClellan makes you feel it. The character profiles were nuanced and detailed, and they always played brilliantly off of one another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done as well as it was in Promise of Blood, so for that alone the book jumps up a few notches.

And then he took those fantastic characters and made them funny as shit. And not in that “I’m clearly adding a joke here” kind of way, but rather he infused humor in the details – subtle gestures, the ways the characters thought about things, and dry wit within the dialogue (aka, exactly the type of funny I prefer in my books). It sent the book up a few more notches.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I also found the plot highly engaging. There was a lot of political maneuvering and a “traitor in the midst” mystery to uncover, from which I found additional entertainment trying to puzzle out.

And then there was even a cool magic system (or two). Before diving in, I would have almost guaranteed you that my biggest takeaway from the book would’ve been the magic system (that sort of world building always amps me up), but surprisingly it was perfectly content to take a backseat to all the other interesting elements. Its casual inclusion in the story was brilliant, and pretty much notched this book into the solid 5-star category for me. Well done, is all I can say. :)

Were there a few pacing issues? Possibly. It’s a slow burn with multiple POVs and allocates a lot of time for dialogue and establishing relationships between characters. I can see how that might cause some to lose interest, especially if they weren’t as engaged with the mystery, humor, and subtle character development. Personally, I ate up every single moment and would gladly sit through a reread. If anything the slower beginning made the whirlwind of the end that much more exciting by contrast.

Series status: I’m on a long waiting list for the next two books, but liked this book well enough to consider buying them outright. Either way, book 2 has the highest priority spot.

Recommendations: Promise of Blood is a highly recommendable flintlock fantasy that will likely appeal to most fantasy readers (especially those who don’t mind a slow burning plot). It had the perfect blend of mystery, magic, humor, and an extra splash of brilliance when it came to the characters. Depending on how the series goes, this could shape up to be a top recommend for me.

Other books you might like (these recs are borrowed from a great post DragonsandZombies did on flintlock fantasy – I’ve read 3 of the 5 listed and can attest to the genre amazingness):

You can check out more great flintlock fantasy recs through her full post. :)

by Niki Hawkes