Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Review: 'The Crimson Campaign' by Brian McClellan

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.

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.

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 . . .

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Crimson Campaign for a long time, and more so since my recent re-read of Promise of Blood. The first book in the series ended on something of a cliffhanger, promising huge events to come; and I’m pleased to say that the sequel did, for the most part, deliver them.

The second book in the Powder Mage trilogy hits the ground running and is packed with battles, magic and guns. It has a faster pace than the first book, as well as a darker tone. The storylines are harder and grittier, particularly Taniel’s story, which has a much darker arc than the first book. The whole book focuses on an ongoing battle against major odds: all our favourites are outnumbered and outclassed, and not all of them manage to prevail. In this respect The Crimson Campaign can occasionally feel a wee bit grimdark; yet it always retains the unique ideas and positive tone of the first book.

It’s often said that the middle book in a trilogy is often the weakest, functioning mainly as a bridge between the main events of the beginning and end. While The Crimson Campaign very much has the feel of this sometimes, overall it serves as far more than just the means to an end:  it keeps up the pace and builds plenty of momentum for the much-anticipated grand finale (more like The Two Towers than Catching Fire, if you will).

There is much more going on here than in the first book: more at stake, more political manoeuvring and more involvement from the other countries which, up until now, we have only heard about. It’s great to see so many new players in the Powder Mage universe, as well as some new settings. That said, it’s also nice to see our favourite characters from Promise of Blood return, along with cameo appearances from characters featuring in some of McClellan’s short stories. I particularly liked the ways in which many of these characters – most of whom have all led separate storylines up until now – begin to come together in interesting ways, while others become further and further apart; and how seemingly minor characters from the first book have now grown in significance, while others have dwindled.

I have to say, though: I’m still not a fan of Nila’s storyline, which continues to feel a little laboured and out of place. Neither am I a fan of the book’s ending, which was even more abrupt than that of the first; and while I enjoyed Taniel’s storyline, I felt it went off in a different direction than it seemed to have been headed, and was a little disappointed. I loved the fast pace of The Crimson Campaign, but didn’t quite enjoy the story as a whole as much as I did when I first discovered the world in Promise of Blood. That said, I’ll still likely pre-order the third in the series (The Autumn Republic) as soon as it becomes available, and can’t wait to see how the Powder Mage saga ends.


Click here to view The Crimson Campaign on Amazon UK

Click here to read my review of Promise of Blood (Powder Mage #1)


  1. Ok. Eveyrone needs to stop getting ahead in series that I am behind on. How am I supposed to talk about this series when the first book is still sitting unread on my kindle? It just isn't fair! Two months this year with no new releases, that is what I need.

    1. Well, you'd better crack on with it then! Totally agree about the crazy amount of new releases this year. Can't wait to get started on the new Weeks, Abercrombie, Lawrence, Ryan, Abraham... etc...

  2. My favorite storyline in this was Taniel's...he and KaPoel really stole the show in this one!


    1. I agree, and I love how much of a presence Ka-Poel has considering that she doesn't speak. I just wish there had been more of Taniel's story set on the front line: I really enjoyed his struggle to adapt to the new order of things, and how he started to make a name for himself among the troops. I felt that we were taken away from that too soon, and it didn't really lead anywhere.

      He's still by far my favourite character though. :D

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