"THE AGE OF KINGS IS DEAD...AND I HAVE KILLED IT." - Cover blurb for Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
What would happen if there were powder mages involved in the French Revolution? Oh, and there may or may not be resurfacing deities too. In a nutshell, that's the speculative question being asked by McClellan's Promise of Blood. While it's definitely epic (flintlock) fantasy and not historical fiction, it has deep roots in the "familiar" with parallels between its basic situation and that of the French Revolution. I may not have noticed normally, but my history class started a fairly in-depth review of that historical event around the same time I started listening to PoB via audiobook. (By the way, the narration in the audiobook is excellent.)
McClellan took a risk in his first published novel (third overall, if my memory serves) by including four POV characters (or perhaps five; the Epilogue may have included a "cameo viewpoint"). Three of them rotate regularly. The fourth only takes charge in a few scenes. I really enjoyed the three main viewpoints. The other one was passable. Each of the main POV characters set up their own story type. Adamat, a grizzled investigator, pushes the narrative into the mystery genre a bit. Taniel's POVs mostly deal with war, an epic fantasy staple. In Tamas' POV, you can get a taste of a little political intrigue and plenty of action. My favorite of the three is tough to decide, but I'm going to go with Tamas. His competence and proactive sliders are way up and his sympathy slider builds almost constantly over the course of the novel. The other two are equally developed, but the fact that they're acting under orders gives them a disadvantage in the "proactive" department. There are a bunch of great secondary characters, including my two favorites: the savage shaman Ka-poel and the sleepless guard Olem.
Many exciting events occur in Promise of Blood. The different POVs allow multiple threads to run simultaneously, each one complex and dynamic. Every tiny resolution is proceeded by a couple new complications. The tension never drops, yet there's never a risk of melodrama. There's plenty of magic and fantastical theology to fuel a plot full of wonders, at an epic scope.
The Powder Mage Trilogy's setting is one of my favorites. It manages to be unique while also showing some influence from legends Robert Jordan and (McClellan's former teacher) Brandon Sanderson. Close-ups of the various locales featured have minimal details, a trait I prefer in my prose. The French Revolution comparison can give you a basic impression of what everything looks like, if you choose to fill in the blanks. For specifics on the world-building, give it a read (or a listen). You won't be disappointed there.
Promise of Blood is astounding as a debut. It isn't quite as powerful at key moments as Sanderson's Elantris was, but for overall quality it's just about level. They may very well tie as the best epic fantasy debuts to date. PoB didn't win the Morningstar Award for nothing, that's for sure.