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.