Excerpt: THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC by Brian McClellan (Orbit)

McClellanB-PM3-AutumnRepublicIf you’ve been reading Civilian Reader for the past couple of years, you’ll have noticed that I’m a big fan of Brian McClellan‘s Powder Mage series – the novels and novellas have all been great. The third and (possibly?) final novel – The Autumn Republic – will be published by Orbit Books on February 10th, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the story ends. Orbit US have provided me with the second chapter to share with you all. You can read the first chapter over on Orbit’s blog, here.

Before we get to the excerpt, however, here’s the synopsis:

The capital has fallen…

Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided…

With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.

All hope rests with one…

And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed…

If you’d like to read more, here’s what else is on CR: Interview with Brian McClellan, Guest posts on Favourite Novel and Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy; Reviews of Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign

Now, on to the excerpt…! Continue reading

Novella Reviews: RETURN TO HONOR by Brian McClellan and FIRE WATER by Jaye Wells (Orbit)

McClellanB-PM-ReturnToHonorBrian McClellan, RETURN TO HONOR

Vlora takes centre stage

Captain Vlora is a powder mage in the Adran army. Once the favored, adopted daughter of the field marshal, she is now a pariah amongst those she called her family. Her superior officers would like nothing more than to send her to a far off posting and forget about her, but no one is exempt when there is a war – and powder mages are desperately needed.

When a traitorous guard captain goes on the run with information that could harm the war effort, Vlora is sent on his trail. She has three days to find him; she will have to make new friends and test the limits of her skills. Fail, and good soldiers will die. Succeed and maybe, just maybe, she can begin to work her way back into the field marshal’s good graces.

Vlora is a character that has spent most of the Powder Mage series on the periphery: following a moment of indiscretion, she has been ostracised by Field Marshal Tamas’s inner circle. Ever since, she has been suffering under Tamas’s withering contempt, and as Taniel’s popularity grows, so too does her isolation among the troops (powder mage and others). In Return to Honor, which takes place after the second novel, The Crimson Campaign, Vlora is given an opportunity to impress Tamas and perhaps reacquire some of his respect. He tasks her to hunt down a survivor from a battle in the aforementioned novel, to recover the intelligence they believe this traitor has stolen, before he has a chance to sell it to their enemies.

It’s another very good story, too: with Vlora at the centre, we see an alternative perspective on life in the army. The action is limited, but the story is more investigative than war-focused. This is one of the great things about McClellan’s short stories: they do a wonderful job of filling out the edges of the story, away from the battlefront. Return to Honor is a great tale to hold you over until the publication of the trilogy’s finale, The Autumn Republic (published on February 10th). Highly recommended.

Powder Mage Series: Promise of Blood [review], The Crimson Campaign [review], The Autumn Republic

Also on CR: Interview with Brian McClellan; Guest Posts “My Favourite Novel” and “Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy

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WellsJ-PW-FireWaterJaye Wells, FIRE WATER

An early case for Kate Prospero

Rookie cop Kate Prospero only has one more training assignment to pass before she’s officially sworn in to Babylon Police Department. But the veteran cop in charge of the river patrol boat is a salty old guy isn’t happy about playing tour guide to a rookie and seems even less interested in real police work. But while on patrol, they stumble on to what appears to be a floating dirty magic lab. This highly combustible situation might finally be the key to these two unlikely partners finding common ground.

This is the first thing by Wells that I’ve read. And it was pretty good: set very early in Kate Prospero’s law enforcement career, she’s still finding her feet in the role, butting heads with the jock recruits who struggle with the idea of a woman on the force, and therefore don’t take her presence seriously. Not only that, she’s an Adept (magically gifted), which only piles on the prejudices and difficulties she faces on a day-to-day basis. Assigned to accompany a cantankerous, aging police officer on river duty, Prospero finds herself on a case, investigating potion sellers. One thing leads to another, and she finds herself right in the thick of it…

I enjoyed this story — Wells’s prose is very clear and well-composed. The characters are interesting, well-written, and varied. They are familiar types, but don’t feel cliched. The story’s pace is good, unhurried, but not plodding. Overall, I couldn’t say the story excited me overmuch, but it did pique my interest to read the novels (which, thankfully, I have). It reminded me of Stacia Kane’s, M.L. Brennan’s, Kevin Hearne’s, and Jim Butcher’s novels in mood and style (while still remaining disctinct, as do these other authors’ works). If you’ve never read anything by Wells, then I think Fire Water is a great introduction. If you’re already a fan of the author and/or the Prospero’s War series, then I think you’ll enjoy this, too. Recommended.

Prospero’s War Series: Dirty Magic, Cursed Moon, Deadly Spells (Feb.10)

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Review: MURDER AT THE KINNEN HOTEL by Brian McClellan

McClellanB-PM-MurderAtTheKinnenHotelAnother very good Powder Mage short story

Special Detective Constable Adamat may be the most capable young investigator in all of Adopest. He’s sharp, thoughtful, and his particular sorcery gives him a flawless memory. A transfer to the First Precinct seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase his abilities and advance his career.

But things work differently in the First Precinct. The murder of a businessman’s mistress quickly pulls Adamat into an unexpected world of conspiracy and politics where he’s forced to use all his wits to stay one step ahead of unseen enemies and keep his friends — and himself — from the guillotine.

Set twenty-two years before the events in Promise of Blood, this is a great introduction to Adamat — dogged, honest investigator in a system that is corrupt and nepotistic. In that respect, this may seem like a typical crime story, only with fantasy elements. And that’s what it is, really, which is a good thing. I enjoyed the investigation, seeing Adamat use his “knack” (perfect memory) to figure out what really happened at the hotel, while navigating the dangerous waters that make up the Adopest police force. There’s some political machinations, economics, magic, and mild character peril. Everything a short story needs.

I really like that McClellan is writing so many short stories set in his Powder Mage series: thus far, they have all been well-written and enjoyable. They add flavour and colour to the world and characters in the novels (the third of which, The Autumn Republic, is due out early 2015 from Orbit Books). While others of the short stories have focused mostly on powder mages, I welcomed the added background for Adamat and the fact that this meant the story was rather different.

You can buy Murder at the Kinnen Hotel from a number of places — check the author’s website for details.

Also on CR: Interview with Brian McClellan; Guest Posts on My Favourite Novel and Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy; Reviews of Promise of BloodThe Crimson Campaign (novels), The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, Hope’s Way, Forsworn, Face in the Window (short stories)

Review: THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN by Brian McClellan (Orbit)

McClellanB-PM2-CrimsonCampaignAn excellent middle book – slightly shaky start, but awesome second half & ending

“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.

I really enjoyed McClellan’s debut novel, Promise of Blood, and also the short stories he has released set in the same world. I was, therefore, extremely happy to get my hands on an ARC of The Crimson Campaign. Perhaps as a result of reading the handful of short stories (all of which were expertly crafted), I found this novel a bit slow going to begin with. However, after the story settled in, I blitzed through it, and read it well into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put it down. McClellan, I believe, is going to have a long, successful career. Continue reading

Short Story Reviews: FORSWORN and THE FACE IN THE WINDOW by Brian McClellan

A pair of short stories set in the world of McClellan’s Powder Mage fantasy series. McClellan continues to impress and these two stories (which follow previous short stories The Girl of Hrusch Avenue and Hope’s End) do a wonderful job of adding more to the world he’s creating. And heightening my anticipation for The Crimson Campaign

McClellanB-PM-ForswornFORSWORN

Erika ja Leora is a powder mage in northern Kez, a place where that particular sorcery is punishable by death. She is only protected by her family name and her position as heir to a duchy.

When she decides to help a young commoner — a powder mage marked for death, fugitive from the law — she puts her life and family reputation at risk and sets off to deliver her new ward to the safety of Adro while playing cat and mouse with the king’s own mage hunters and their captain, Duke Nikslaus.

Occurs 35 years before the events in Promise of Blood.

This is a great novella. This time, we’re in Kez, and we learn about their strict censure of powder mages – lowborn mages are executed, but highborn mages can forswear their gifts and live (branded). It is set a long while before the novel, as is mentioned above, and it’s only at the end that McClellan connects it with Tamas and his revolution. I really liked the way he wrote all of the characters. The story is very well-paced, and the fight scenes are expertly done. The author continues to impress, the more of his work I read.

Very highly recommended.

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McClellanB-PM-FaceInTheWindow(BCS140)THE FACE IN THE WINDOW

Taking place two years before the events in Promise of Blood, “The Face in the Window” relates the story of Taniel’s trip to Fatrasta and his first meeting with a mysterious girl named Ka-poel.

Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue #140.

The author announced this rather suddenly on his website and via Twitter, just as I was finishing Forsworn. Naturally, I went straight to Amazon and bought it… It’s a great story, too, one that has a slow build to a sudden, appropriate ending. It was great to read of Taniel’s first meeting with Ka-poel (my favourite character from Promise of Blood, probably). It’s set in the muggy, oppressive, dragon-infested swamps, and Taniel attaches himself to a regiment who end up devastated by their enemies. With Ka-poel’s help, he seeks revenge on the Privileged who murdered his company.

Much shorter than Forsworn, McClellan nevertheless offers a satisfying story. You don’t have to have read Promise of Blood, but you will probably get a bit more out of “The Face in the Window” if you have.

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Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood is published in the UK and US by Orbit Books. The next novel in the series, The Crimson Campaign is due to be published in May 2014. I can’t wait!

Short Story Reviews, Flintlock Fantasy Edition: HOPE’S END by Brian McClellan & THE PENITENT DAMNED by Django Wexler

Two new short stories from the new wave of flintlock fantasy authors

McClellanB-HopesEndHOPE’S END by Brian McClellan

Captain Verundish has two problems. On campaign with the Adran army and far from her homeland, she is helpless when the young daughter she left at home is threatened. To make matters worse, General Tamas has put her lover in command of a Hope’s End — the first charge through a breach straight into the teeth of enemy cannon and sorcery. To save the people she loves, Verundish will have to come up with a deadly solution…

This is a pretty interesting story. A “Hope’s End” is the first charge against a fortress or other reinforced emplacement. It is pretty much guaranteed death. Tamas likes to select those who bought their commissions to lead these hopeless endeavours. In this case, however, Captain Verundish is in love with the man chosen to lead the next Hope’s End. With trouble back home (her husband is an asshole, and threatening the welfare of her daughter), the story actually opens with her contemplating suicide. Instead, she decides to volunteer to take over the Hope’s End, with the expectation of dying and guaranteeing her daughter’s financial future. Naturally, not all plans go according to plan.

Anyone who was disappointed at the lack of female characters in Promise of Blood will be pleased with Captain Verundish. She’s an interesting character, and I like the way she handles the personal and professional tests she’s presented with. The battle scene is pretty good, too – it’s focused, tightly-plotted, and not over-written. It is followed by an example of how good a leader Tamas is off the battlefield. It’s nice that McClellan has actually paid attention to developing our understanding of why Tamas is such a beloved leader – rather than just telling us that he is, and letting that be the end of it. It’s a good story. (This is set when Tamas’s son, Taniel, is only two years old.)

Well written, this is another good introduction to McClellan’s writing and fantasy world. I really like the way the author has been releasing these short stories to add more to our overall picture and understanding of the pre-coup world. Certainly recommended, and a must-read for fans of the novel. This has only increased my anticipation for The Crimson Campaign

Also on CR: The Girl of Hrusch Avenue Review, Interview with Brian McClellan, Guest Posts Favourite Novel and Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy

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Wexler-PenitentDamnedTHE PENITENT DAMNED by Django Wexler

Alex is a master thief, with dark magic to give her an edge. When she goes up against Duke Orlanko’s Concordat secret police, though, she may have taken on more than she bargained for…

I read Wexler’s The Thousand Names recently, and thought it was a very interesting start to a new series. In The Penitent Damned, the author takes us far from the location of his novel, and back to a city under control of Duke Orlanko. Alex, the protagonist, has always had special abilities which have given her an edge in her chosen profession. Schooled by a former master-thief, she has taken a job in the city. Frustratingly, to go into much more detail about the story will ruin it (it’s a very short story). We get a glimpse of more of what is going on behind the scenes. We learn just a little bit more about certain events at the end of The Thousand Names, which opens up some intriguing possibilities for the next book in the series. All very cryptic, but I think if you read the novel, and then this short story, you’ll see why I don’t want to go into too much detail. We get to see more magic in action, this time around (which didn’t feature as much in Thousand Names). And it was very cool, giving rise to some good action scenes.

Even if you haven’t read the novel, though, this is a pretty good introduction to Wexler’s writing style and fantasy world. I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet decided if they want to read The Thousand Names, as well as fans of the novel. Wexler is, I believe, definitely an author to watch. A very satisfactory short story, discussed in a rather unsatisfactory review. Sorry about that.

Also on CR: Interview with Django Wexler, Guest Post on Terry Pratchett

Interview with BRIAN McCLELLAN

McClellan-PM1-PromiseOfBlood

Brian McClellan’s debut fantasy, Promise of Blood, has caused quite a splash in the SFF community. It blends fast-paced story-telling with a new and interesting world, and a plethora of interesting and engaging characters. Brian has already featured on Civilian Reader a few of times already. He has written two guest posts – on his favourite novel, and also Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy – and I have reviewed the novel already, too. He was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about his fiction, writing practices, and more… Continue reading