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BOOK REVIEW: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

REVIEW SUMMARY: McCellan’s second Powder Mage novel expands the canvas of the story in a welcome and engaging manner.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The repercussions of Promise of Blood echo forward, as Tamas strikes into Kez even as political events back in Adopest (and an angry god) threaten to overwhelm the promise of his revolution.

PROS: Engaging story of the main protagonist; excellent set pieces; tight writing.
CONS: Some choices in POV characters remain something of a lost opportunity.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid follow-up to The Crimson Campaign that keeps the momentum of the series.

Vahan Zabel
Department of History
Jileman University

My Dear Garen,

I wanted to include this introduction and analysis in addition to the fresh-off-the-presses copy of Brian McClellan’s epic history of the turbulent life and times of Field Marshal Tamas, The Crimson Campaign. While I do believe in a book standing by itself, I know, my dear friend, you are a very busy person, and might want something more than just my say-so that the history is worth your very busy time. How many students are clamoring for your attention, again?

I do not recall if you read the first volume of McClellan’s history, The Promise of Blood. Such an evocative title, that. The coup against the last King of Adro, the immediate reaction of the Kez, the amazing events of the return of a divine power. Although that history focused mainly on Tamas (and his son, Taniel), I thought the inclusion of the story of Inspector Adamat, as tangential as he was to Tamas’ story for much of it, gave it a real boots-on-the-ground feel, as well as Nila’s crucial story, of course.

In this second volume, you, having lived through the events as I, are aware of what this covers. Tamas’ disastrous counterstrike into Kez and its aftermath, with his flight across Kez. Such mastery of the description of that flight, Garen. McClellan takes care in his history to bring the highs and the low. Yes the exciting and drama filled conflicts of Tamas’ story are expertly rendered, including a depiction of the battle of…you know which one. That battle, as I recall, is one of the battles your cousin Anahid (how is she, by the way adapting to University life?) teaches in her course on military tactics. You must tell me what she thinks of the depiction of the battle, when you lend her your copy. I’d put one in the post for her directly, but you do know that I’ve been intimidated by her since we were nine years of age.

Of course, The Crimson Campaign is far more than just the story of Tamas’ trek across the Kez, just as The Promise of Blood was more than just Tamas’ coup from his point of view. The Crimson Campaign does detail Inspector Adamat’s crucial role in the burgeoning events in Adopest that occurred after the seeming fall of Tamas. You can really see in this volume of the history why McClellan chose him as his point of view on events in the first volume, so as to have a clear line into this volume when his profile becomes significantly raised. It makes a nice counterpoint to the story of Tamas, and is as full of exciting action as it is depicts the political turmoil and intrigue that filled Adopest in those days.

Yes, I do think that the points of view for his history sometimes might be more expertly chosen, but I think McClellan does very well here in the main. In particular, he really did his research in uncovering some of the darker times of Captain Taniel after the cataclysmic first meeting with Kresimir. Is it done a little too melodramatically, his fall and then rise as he struggles to hold the army together, in the days after Tamas’ apparent disastrous conflict with the Kez? Perhaps. But it is well rendered, McClellan has sketched an excellent character study here.

I conclude that McClellan has improved as an author, developing these fine volumes of the events that changed our world. The writing is tight and clear, a real counterpoint to some of the bloated and wasteful histories that I’ve had to read, and to teach. Did you know, as a sideline, McClellan has also taken to writing short monographs focusing on some other aspects of the history of Tamas and those around him? I do think that these monographs have allowed him to improve as an author, and while certainly not crucial to reading The Promise of Blood or The Crimson Campaign, these monographs certainly enrich the reading experience of the histories themselves. And no, I have still not managed a trip to meet him and discuss his grand historical project. Would that I could.

I look forward to the bracing republican season of Autumn, when we can meet again during my biennial speaking engagement at the University of Adopest and you can tell me what you thought yourself of the book. Please do give my regards to the lovely Margarid, and your children.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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