Brian McClellan, Uncanny Collateral (2019)

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Author: Brian McClellan

Title: Uncanny Collateral

Format: epub

Pages: 96

It’s been some time since I’ve read a really new genre book… Now, I finally did, but, despite it being from one of my favourite young writers, I’m not very happy about it.
Brian McClellan is one of our favourite new authors, his Powder Mage universe – one we greatly appreciate. Great ideas, great characters, constantly improving writing. I’m yet to read his second Powder Mage trilogy, but it’s only because I’m certain I’ll like it and I’m saving it for later.
When I read in his newsletter he wrote a short urban fantasy novel, I was intrigued and immediately bought an epub (pdf and mobi included in the package). I read the first chapter that very day, two further ones during the next couple of weeks, and finished this very short thing only recently, during a flight. Why? Well…

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Brian McClellan, Wrath of Empire (2018)

McClellan_WrathofEmpire

Author: Brian McClellan

Title: Wrath of Empire

Pages: 656

Format: Hardcover

A sequel to Sins of Empire, Wrath of Empire picks up where Sins ended. General Vlora Flint leads her Riflejacks turned mercenary army away from Landfall in a doomed effort of protecting refugees. I say “doomed”, because two Dynize armies literally race each other to finish her off more quickly and efficiently, and a Fatrastan army on the other side of the river wants her imprisoned and tried for treason. Mad Ben Styke accompanies Vlora with his own unit, reborn from the ashes of old Mad Lancers, and ponders the difficult dilemmas of vengeance, while Michel Brevis, still in his role as a Gold Rose Blackhat, smuggles families of other Blackhat members from the occupied capital city. Sounds tough, but that’s only the beginning: they all will soon face even greater dangers and more impossible tasks, because, as usual in McClellan’s books, the neck-breaking pace of action doesn’t relent for even a moment.

riflejacks

Wrath of Empire can be described as an impressive string of pitched battles, deadly ambushes and duels, balanced with a huge amount of politics, internal struggles of various factions, torture, and betrayal. I’d go as far as to say that the military part of the book is the lighter one. The dark, underground maze beneath Landfall, in which insurgent/terrorist cells of Fatrastan Blackhats are hiding and from which they plot bombings and assassinations, is an apt metaphor of McClellan’s vision of politics. It’s as off-putting as it’s dangerous, and yet it remains an integral part of the life of the city above, connected to it through various hidden tunnels and cellars. McClellan seems to maintain a romantic view of war, full of heroic acts of selfless bravery and beautiful cavalry charges, miraculous deliverances in the last second and improbably lucky coincidences. In contrast, there is nothing romantic in the image of political struggle he paints in the Wrath of Empire, where even heroic, selfless deeds are met with suspicion, allegiances change with the speed of light, while the final goal seems at best unattainable and at worst non-existent. Yet more than the pitched battles I enjoyed the descriptions of  tangled politics of the Dynize occupying force, and really appreciated the complexity of the Dynize image, who weren’t portrayed as universally bad guys. Having Michel operate in the midst of the occupying force served very well as an opportunity to show all shades of personalities also among the notional enemy.

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Brian McClellan, Sins of Empire (2017)

Sins of Empire

A sequel of sorts to the critically acclaimed Powder Mage trilogy, Sins of Empire takes us ten years forward and half a world away from Adro, to the newly created country and nation of Fatrasta. When Taniel Two-Shot more than a decade ago helped the Fatrastans win their independence from the Kez, he fought alongside Old-World Kressians and aboriginal Palos. But now, as the nation of Fatrasta has become increasingly rich and influential, its leaders and Kressian elites have started to mercilessly exploit the weaknesses of Palo. The internal inequalities and segregation policies introduced by Kressians pushed the mutual distrust between the former colonialists from all over the Nine and the aboriginal tribes of Palos toward political unrest and a bloody civil war. And when the empire of Dynize, remaining in self-imposed isolationism for the last four hundred years, comes knocking with a big-ass fleet of war ships and an army bloodied earlier in  a cruel civil war, things get even more dire pretty soon.

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Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs (2014)

City of Stairs

Let’s take a tour through the streets of the fabled city of Bulikov, where gods lived, where they created and destroyed, took care of their followers and inevitably issued edicts. Bulikov, city of grand spires and beautiful gardens, shining like an immense jewel of the world. A seat of gods, a place of power, a source of pride – and hubris – for the people dwelling on the Continent.

If you were to walk through the streets of Bulikov now, you wouldn’t see any of the wonders. You’d see a forest of decrepit, half-ruined buildings, hundreds of thousands of stairs ending in the thin air, as if cut by a gigantic scythe, and a sea of poverty, resentment and anger.

Because the gods weren’t omnipotent, omniscient or immortal. They were killed, and with their destruction came the destruction of everything they have ever built. Bulikov is now a gaping wound in social memory, a festering boil waiting to burst at the slightest pressure. And guess what? That pressure is easily applied, from many directions at once.

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