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Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
Book Name: Sins of Empire
Author: Brian McClellan
Publisher(s): Orbit Books
Formatt: Hardback / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Flintlock Fantasy
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Brian McClellan earned scores of new fantasy fans with the Powder Mage Trilogy. With Sins of Empire, the first book in his new Gods of Blood and Powder series, McClellan may have found an entirely new level.

As he demonstrated in the Powder Mage Trilogy, characters continue to be McClellan’s greatest strength, as his latest work blends familiar faces with exciting new characters. The action takes place in Fatrasta, across the ocean from the events of McClellan’s previous three novels, where Lady Chancellor Lindet and her government struggle to keep control over the Palo rebels who refuse to bow before the empire.

Vlora Flint, who we first met in the Powder Mage Trilogy, is now the founder of the Riflejacks, a mercenary company comprised primarily of former Adran soldiers. Running the company alongside Olem, she has found employment with the chancellor putting down the disorganized Palo forces, but plans change quickly when she is called from the jungle back to the city of Landfall, where she is tasked with finding Mama Palo, the rebels’ leader.

Vlora’s storyline gives us our best glimpse of Palo society. Her presence on the Fatrastan continent at all is a bit strange considering this is where her former fiancé, Taniel Two-Shot, made his name fighting on the side of the Palo. Now, even though she doesn’t especially like the Empire, Vlora finds herself fighting against the Palo, killing the same rebels Taniel risked his life to protect. It’s that conflict within herself that makes Vlora’s storyline most interesting, as readers finally get a glimpse inside the mind of a character who was often on the periphery in previous books.

The most exciting newcomer to the story is Mad Ben Styke, a former war hero who was betrayed and has spent the past fifteen years in prison. When a mysterious stranger gets him out, Mad Ben is tasked with infiltrating Vlora’s Riflejacks and keeping tabs on the mercenary general. Of course, even as he keeps an eye on Vlora, Styke is determined to get revenge upon the chancellor’s grand master, Fidelis Jes – the man who made sure Styke spent the past fifteen years languishing as a convicted war criminal.

In some ways, Styke reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s Logen Ninefingers, a world-weary warrior who has seen just about everything. Just as Logen seems calm and reasonable most of the time, Styke is a steady, calming presence right up until the fighting begins. It’s then that the old war hero demonstrates exactly why he is called “Mad Ben.”

The third protagonist is Michel Bravis, a young spy in Fidelis Jes’s employ. Despite having Palo blood, Michel has proven successful in the Blackhats, rising to the rank of a Silver Rose. But he’s desperate to reach the highest rank, a Gold Rose, and when Fidelis Jes tasks him with finding those responsible for a new propaganda book criticising the empire, Michel is determined to succeed, even though he has no experience as an investigator. But some of Michel’s fellow secret police may be involved, and Michel’s investigation takes him in an unexpected direction that will surprise and delight readers familiar with the series.

At first, it’s easy to dismiss Michel as a slightly less interesting version of Adamat, the investigator from McClellan’s first three books, but as the book progresses Michel becomes infinitely more interesting, and his storyline provides Sins of Empire with its biggest twists. McClellan has certainly set the stage for an interesting series with Sins of Empire, laying the groundwork for plenty of excitement in future installments. Fans of the previous series may never truly come around on Vlora, where she was a source of pain for fan-favorite Taniel, but this book certainly gave her readers enough insight into her mind to win her at least a few fans. Even for those who don’t turn entirely to her side, most of her scenes also include the extremely likeable Olem, which is always a plus for those who enjoy dry humor.

The additions of Mad Ben Styke and Michel gave Sins of Empire some exciting new faces to add a fresh look to this new series. While the book clearly builds off the preceding trilogy, it’s also an entirely different story, and the introduction of these new characters helps to lend the action a new perspective and voice that differentiates it from McClellan’s previous entries.

Reading the Powder Mage Trilogy isn’t strictly necessary to enjoying Sins of Empire, but I would recommend reading McClellan’s first three novels prior to tackling it, if possible. Familiarity with the events of the first trilogy lend a richness, especially to Vlora’s storyline, that simply isn’t possible without that background familiarity with the characters and the world in which they reside. I certainly can see how the powder mages’ powers and how they differ from the powers of other magic users could confuse readers who hadn’t already been exposed to McClellan’s rich worldbuilding.

If you were already a fan of the Powder Mage Trilogy, Sins of Empire is definitely worth reading. If you had unanswered questions left over from the conclusion of The Autumn Republic, Sins of Empire provides a fulfilling return to the world McClellan has populated with interesting politics and vibrant characters.


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