‘Blood of Empire’ by Brian McClellan

Overall Rating: Recommended with Reservations  (How I Rate Books)

Personal Rating: Good conclusion to the series, Does not stand on it’s own

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Genres:

Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Military Fantasy, Flintlock Fantasy, Powder Mage

Similar books:

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:


Spoilers below. You’ve been warned!

I’m going to go relatively spoiler-lite in this review, because this book basically consists entirely of plot spoilers- you can’t discuss much without betraying the full plot.

This review is a review of this book and this series overall.

This book is the quintessential last-book-in-a-series: lots of action, a decent amount of character development, the plot moving along at a good clip, culminating in a memorable climax. This book concludes not only the ‘Gods of Blood and Powder’ series, but also the ‘Powder Mage’ series as a whole- meaning six books plus untold numbers of novellas+short stories. Ending on a good climax is important.

Plot: Now I’ll just come right out and say it: I think this is the least-compelling of the three books in the ‘Gods of blood and powder’ sub-series. A lot of events happen in this story, but those events aren’t fleshed out as well as they could have been. There wasn’t enough worldbuilding, characterization, lore and gravitas about this book. This is a meaty book, but lacked the fat needed to give the meat flavor. To continue this metaphor, this meal was perfectly edible and quite delectable when taken with ‘Sins of Empire’ and ‘Wrath of Empire,’ but it doesn’t stand on it’s own… as one might expect for the final book in a trilogy.

The series overall plot was good and at moments great.

Pacing: The author set out to write a fast-paced climax to the prior two books in the series, and that’s exactly what he did- this is a fast-paced capstone to what came before without treading new unique ground. A fast-paced novel can do a lot to make a less compelling story more interesting, and that’s exactly what this is: lots of fighting, lots of action, lots of schemes, culminating in a grand battle at the end.

For the series overall, the story seems to take place over the course of just a few weeks to just a few months, giving the events a fast-paced feel to them. The author did a good job of leaning into that speed to make the story feel frenetic and compelling, as though the POV characters were just barely hanging on by their fingernails to events as they happened. A+ work.

Characterization: Now that I’ve finished both this series and the prior one, I must say that I miss Tamas as a POV character. Tamas was so compelling that the setting lacks a certain panache without him. Ben Styke does a lot to act as an anchor for this series in Tamas’ stead, but Vlora in this seemed like Tamas-lite. I feel like Vlora needed her own leadership style instead of just mimicking her father.

  • Vlora: I liked her. In the three books, she’s at her most compelling in this story. She struggles with trying to lead even after she’s suffered a grave injury in the prior book- an injury so grave she’s lost her magic. I like how her personal injuries have made her more bitter towards the enemy- this seemed real to me. I just wish we saw more of this from her in the prior two books.
  • Mikel: He’s a clever bugger, but also his plot arcs in book 2 and 3 never quite clicked with me. I don’t know why- Mikel’s a spy and that sort of plot arc would ordinarily really jive with me. For some reason I never really liked him (outside off book 1, he was good in book 1). I think it’s because he was always going with the flow of the story, doing what was expected of him by his superiors. He was at his best in book 1 when he was under deep cover, but in books 2 and 3 when he was more of a generic action hero he lost his appeal.
  • Ben: Ben’s the real star of this series. He is my easily favorite POV in the entire six book series. He’s a legendary warrior who’s reputation for bloodthirst has spread far and wide… but he’s gotten old enough to realize that maybe solving all his problems with wanton murder is wrong. In book 1 he’s freed from imprisonment, and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against everyone who wronged him, culminating in book 3 where he saves the bloody day and then (spoilers) retires happily to a farm.

For all of them, I have one additional complaint: I wanted more try-fail cycles. They had a good number of them in the first two books, but in book 3 there weren’t enough.

Overall I had a good time reading this series. I wish the author was a little more daring worldbuilding/setting wise and added a pinch of cayenne to his characters, but overall he did a good job of writing a fun story. I can Highly Recommend you read either ‘Promise of Blood,’ the first book in this setting, or ‘Sins of Empire,’ the first book in this sub-series. Both would be good places to start. If they strike your fancy, keep reading.

 

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