Sins of Empire – A Five Star Review

Verdict: 5/5 Stars. Go read it, it’s awesome.

What I loved:

  • Characters –  The book starts out introducing each primary character in turn, and McClellan does a very good job of establishing each character outside of and while setting up the impending conflict. I thought each character had unique and interesting flaws, believable motivations, and little details brought them to life. I liked the diverse cast of characters as well – the POV characters weren’t your typical fantasy heroes.
  • Plot – McClellan intertwines his character arcs in such a way that they not only come together gradually, but so that the character growth moments also comprise the main plot. I can’t recall another book or author who has done this so well. I would really like to talk to Brian about how he plotted this book.
    • I also appreciated that Brian was able to continually raise the stakes without resorting to a world-ending threat in the first book. He went from personal stakes and interesting side-quests for the primary characters to those side-quests turning into a large scale conflict. Even better, the personal stakes and side-quests stayed away from typical fantasy tropes, for the most part.
  • Pacing – I think Brian encountered an issue in the first 10% of the book that almost all speculative fiction authors have to deal with: hooking your readers while also setting up the world and characters. To me, the pacing for the first 10% was above average, but the remaining 90% was superb. Not only did the plot move forward extremely well, but switching through 3 primary POV characters was handled expertly.

What I liked:

  • Style: the writing is clear and engaging. There were very few passages that I either glossed over because the words were unnecessary, or that I had to read twice because it wasn’t as clear as I’d like it to be, and the few I encountered could easily have been due to my own user error.
  • Worldbuilding: SoE builds off of the world created in the first Powder Mage trilogy, which I really like. I’ve seen a few complaints about the interwebs regarding logical inconsistencies in how the magic system(s) work. Really, people? You have no problems with alternate universes where unexplained magic can be used indiscriminately, but the fact that gunpowder has magical properties is a problem for you? C’mon man. I like it. It’s fun and makes for a great story.

My takeaways as a writer:

  • I loved seeing someone execute a near-perfect blend of plot and character in an interesting world. I’ll be tweaking my plotting process as a result of reading SoE.
  • The treatment of POV characters was awesome, and convinced me that a measured approach to switching between a small number of POVs can work very well.

-Scott

Review: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage #3)

The Autumn Republic (The Powder Mage, #3)The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gave this book a 5 because I enjoyed reading it enough that I finished it within a few days, and because I think that the author did a very good job with his characters in this book. The characters were moderately interesting in the previous two volumes, but I felt a real attachment to them several times in the final volume, which is not easy to do. The magic system is very interesting, and the character actions and reactions are believable for the most part.

The Autumn Republic is also a good example of why I wish there were more resolution to the rating system. 3 stars may as well be zero as far as I’m concerned, which leaves very little room to differentiate between books that are various degrees of awesome.

If I could have, I would give this a 4.5 or so. The above positive points make this a very enjoyable book, but at times I felt that the author was in too much of a hurry to hit all of his plot points. I appreciate a fast-paced book as much as anyone, but it’s unfortunate to see the continuity of the prose suffer at times. One particular example is a scene in which a main character is stabbed, and the perpetrator is then seen “running down a hill” or some such, never to be heard from again. Furthermore, there were a few logical inconsistencies and/or improbabilities that keep this book and series from becoming a truly masterful compilation. And finally, the ending felt rushed. I mean come on, nobody reading fantasy books minds if you take another twenty or even fifty pages to put together the spectacular ending that this series deserved.

Overall, a great book and series. I recommend it to all. I’ll certainly be reading this author’s future works, as he does a great many things right and showed definite improvement even just through three books.

-Scott

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