ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Gods of Blood and Powder (Book #3 of 3), Powder Mage (Book #6 of 6)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Flintlock Fantasy
Pages: 688 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: 5th December 2019 by Orbit (UK) & 3rd December 2019 by Orbit (US)
Six years after the first publication of Promise of Blood, it’s time to say goodbye to the Powder Mage universe.
Blood of Empire is the third and last book in the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy. McClellan has also said that this will be the final novel in the Powder Mage universe, and there’s a chance there won’t be any new full-novel in this universe, at least not for years because McClellan has a new series—Glass Immortals—coming in 2022. So overall, was this a satisfying conclusion to the saga? I’ll say yes. I have a few issues with it that prevent me from giving it a full 5-stars rating, but overall I’m satisfied. There aren’t many things that I can say regarding the details of the plotline without going into spoiler territory, and I don’t want to do that, so I’ll get into what worked for me and a few things that in my opinion would’ve made this final book more awesome.
“Styke was willing to put up with all sorts of creeping things for the sake of an ambush. He would not, however, allow a man to piss on him.”
Every time I talk to readers and fans of McClellan’s work, the majority have agreed that McClellan is very well-known for his fast-paced and action-packed oriented storyline. Contrary to The Powder Mage trilogy, every installment in Gods of Blood and Powder adapts a slow-burn story that escalates towards a big explosive conclusion. Both Sins of Empire and Wrath of Empire uses the same method, and the situation is even more apparent in Blood of Empire where the big action sequences happened only at the final 15% of the novel. McClellan has spent a lot of time building the setup towards reaching the final confrontation set piece. In fact, out of all six novels in the Powder Mage universe, it felt like this is the one where action scenes happened the least. It’s different from the first trilogy but it’s not a bad thing per se. It may be slower relatively, but McClellan was still able to tell a compelling story without neglecting the high focus on characterizations, relationship developments, and politics. Cultural differences, greed, faith, responsibilities, loyalty, love, and learning from mistakes were some of the patent themes used effectively to enrich the narrative in Blood of Empire.
“I’m an officer. A shitty one, most of the time. But I’ve always protected my men from the injustice of tyrants. It’s one of my few good qualities, and I’ve reached the age that I’m just not going to let that go.”
The main characters in this series, especially Ben Styke, Celine, and Michel Bravis, are some of the best characters McClellan has ever written in his career so far. As I’ve mentioned in my previous review, Ben Styke is up there with Taniel Two-Shot and Ka-poel for being my favorite characters in the saga. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, once again, I enjoyed reading the character’s development of these characters. I loved reading the interaction between Styke and Celine and Ka-poel; I loved reading Michel’s subterfuge and spycraft. What surprised me, however, was how much I enjoyed reading Vlora’s storyline here. I’ve never been a fan of Vlora, but I think in Blood of Empire McClellan successfully characterize and leads her towards a development that made me care for her. Vlora is a flawed character and seeing her learning from her mistakes to do better while she struggles with the dilemmas of living up to her father was engrossing. All of these characters have come a long way since their first entrance into the story, and I found the closure for each character’s arcs to be incredibly satisfying; I feel that Blood of Empire has given these characters an apt ending.
“It’s more than something. It’s my promise. A word is worth a lot, Vlora. Don’t forget it in your grief and anger.”
Although I did mention that I’m satisfied with the closure of each character’s story, the climax sequences are also where Blood of Empire gets trickier to rate and review. Seriously, the quality of the action sequences itself in the last 15% of the book showcases McClellan’s fast-paced actions at his best. The way he ended his chapters with cliffhanger continuously will make you want to continue reading non-stop; I loved the sense of danger I felt in the relentless battle and unpredictability with no respite. I mean, I finished reading the second half—more than three hundred pages long—in a single day. That should say enough how captivated I am by the second half of the novel.
“But your arrogant prick of a Great Ka still hasn’t learned his lesson.”
“What lesson is that?”
“That I’m Mad Ben Styke.”
Unfortunately, despite how much I enjoyed reading Blood of Empire, I have to admit that several elements in it stopped me from giving it a full 5-stars rating. The first reason being Ben Styke’s storyline that pushes him to rely on brain and subterfuge. One of the greatest things about this trilogy, for me, was Ben Styke’s contrast in his brutality and his love towards Celine and the Mad Lancers. Seeing him sitting in the sideline observing events from a bystander’s perspective and relying on other characters was not exciting. The strong and distinctive strengths of the series also felt underused in this concluding installment. We’ve heard about the power of the enchanted armor worn by the Mad Lancers for almost three books long now, the end of Wrath of Empire gave huge hints that led me to believe that we’re going to see its usage in its full glory here, but that didn’t happen; the armor blocked a few bullets but that’s it, nothing too special shown. Unlike the previous books in the saga, we also don’t get to see the Powder Mages unleashing their power here. We do get to see the Privileged and bone-eye in actions, but they’re not as memorable as it was in the first trilogy or Sins of Empire. Finally, the final confrontation with the villains—emperor of Dynize and Ka-Sedial—ended up being super short and anti-climactic, not to mention that it required a bit of Deus ex Machina element to resolve too. It is very odd for me to say that this almost 700 pages long novel felt rushed, but the climax sequences, at least, felt that way to me.
The execution of the climax sequences and the underused potential of the series did fell a bit short to me, but honestly speaking, I still had a great time reading the novel. I was captivated by my investment for the characters, and I wanted their story to end in the most fitting fashion; McClellan has achieved this, and I’m satisfied with the conclusion of the series. McClellan has been writing stories in this world for six years now. I’m sure the things he learned from writing Powder Mage and Gods of Blood and Powder will be put to good use for his future writing endeavors; the premise of the new series sounds awesome already, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Overall, Blood of Empire is an absorbing final installment that satisfyingly closed the main stories in Powder Mage universe. Thanks for the stories, McClellan, it certainly has been a blast!
Gods of Blood and Powder: 12.5/15 stars
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.