Powder Mage Short Stories and Novellas by Brian McClellan
|Book Name:||“Hope’s End”, “The Girl of Hrusch Avenue”, “The Face in the Window”, Forsworn, and Servant of the Crown|
For those awaiting The Autumn Republic, the third and final book in Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, February 2015 feels as though it’s a long way away. Fortunately, McClellan has supplemented his trilogy with three short stories (“Hope’s End”, “The Girl of Hrusch Avenue” and “The Face in the Window”) and two novellas (Forsworn and Servant of the Crown) that allow us a brief return to a flintlock fantasy world rich with fascinating characters, political intrigue and a fun magic system.
Throughout the Powder Mage trilogy, McClellan has been expert at creating memorable characters whose failings somehow make them even stronger, and these short stories and novellas give him an opportunity to revisit those characters prior to the events of the trilogy.
The first short story, “Hope’s End”, introduces us to Verundish, a captain in Tamas’s Adran army. Determined to protect her daughter back home and save her lover, who has been assigned to a lead a doomed assault on a Kez stronghold, Verundish takes desperate measures in an attempt to solve both problems at once. Like the Powder Mage trilogy, even when Tamas isn’t the protagonist, he looms large over the action, and in “Hope’s End” we get to see him about 20 years prior to Promise of Blood.
With the subsequent stories, McClellan keeps the focus on characters we first met in the trilogy. “The Girl of Hrusch Avenue” shows us how Vlora came to meet Tamas, Taniel and Bo, and allows us to learn just a bit more about a character worthy of exploration. It’s hard to criticize McClellan for failing to spend more time with Vlora in Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign – after all, the plot demands that McClellan keep his focus on Tamas, Taniel and Olem – but I still walked away from both books wishing there had been an opportunity to learn more about Vlora (and several other characters, actually). “The Girl of Hrusch Avenue” gives us exactly that, as we see Vlora, Tamas, Taniel and Bo about 10 years prior to Promise of Blood.
The last of the three short stories, “The Face in the Window”, tells us how Taniel first got involved in the Fatrastan rebellion and how he met Ka-Poel. Of the three short stories, it’s the strongest, touching on one of the trilogy’s most interesting relationship – Taniel and Ka-Poel – and provides solid action in pitting Taniel against Privileged mages for the first time. Because it takes place just two years prior to Promise of Blood, it feels better connected to the trilogy, and could easily have been a scene in the opening book.
With Forsworn, McClellan introduces us to Erika, Tamas’s wife, whose legacy looms large over the events of the trilogy. The story takes place just prior to Erika meeting Tamas for the first time, and gives us our first glimpse of the Kez noblewoman in the flesh as she seeks to help a powder mage escape into Adro, where powder magic isn’t outlawed. It’s intriguing to see Erika, not as an ideal recalled with devotion by both Tamas and Taniel, but as a fully-crafted character. You can see the spark of courage and wit and daring that explains why Tamas and Taniel recall her so fondly, and it’s interesting to contrast the Erika we meet in this story with the Erika Tamas and Taniel have immortalized in their memories.
She’s actually even more interesting in Servant of the Crown, where we see her through Tamas’s eyes. Set immediately after Forsworn, Erika meets Tamas shortly after the ambitious young officer has drawn the unpleasant attention of the nobility and the royal cabal of Privileged sorcerers. This novella stands above the other stories, not only because of the exciting action, but because we see a very different Tamas than the one we’ve met in the Powder Mage trilogy. In those books, we meet a Tamas filled with purpose, his every action based upon a larger design. The younger Tamas we meet in Servant of the Crown is ambitious, but there’s no grand scheme thrusting him into action. We see his familiar disdain for the nobility, but here it’s more a raw hatred, with none of the self-possession that makes the elder Tamas so interesting – and dangerous.
The scenes with Tamas and Erika crackle in a way they simply don’t when these two characters are apart. Erika especially is written in such a way that you can see why the legendary Field Marshal Tamas would love such a woman, and why her loss would create the Tamas we meet later on. Of the five stories, this one is the most interesting, primarily because it lends the reader the greatest insights into the characters they know and love from the trilogy, and at novella length, McClellan takes the time to introduce us to young Tamas, place him in a variety of situations, then show us how Tamas and Erika face external challenges – and challenge each other.
For readers looking to determine whether the Powder Mage trilogy is for them, I would recommend one of the two novellas before the short stories, which seem designed primarily for those who have already read Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign. Readers who haven’t already been introduced to the world wouldn’t have any difficulty picking up the action, but my lone criticism for the short stories is they live up to their adjective – short. They don’t allow new readers the time or sufficient plotting to much of a feel for the series. That being said, those who enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy will almost certainly like all five of the stories, though the greater length and relative complexity of the novellas makes them more satisfying and better reflections of McClellan’s storytelling talent.