The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Crimson Campaign for a long time. The first book in this series, Promise of Blood, ended on a HUGE 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 thanCatching 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 still look forward to seeing how the Powder Mage saga ends.