The Crimson Campaign (Powder Mage #2)

The adventures of Tamas and friends continue to be a source of high-octane entertainment, but the book does have its issues.

In the words of that old chestnut, Confucius – the stakes are higher in this installment, in the classic tradition of Star Wars (and its inspirations). Tamas finds himself beset with enemies on more sides. It seems like the many disparate kingdoms that encircle his are out for his blood. Fair enough – he did threaten the very essence of their power, by deposing a moribund monarchy and installing (or trying to install) a fledgling democracy.

There’s battles galore, and deeds of derring-do, and treachery never lurks very far from the surface. This is, I think, a very cinematic novel. There is always something happening. The plot propels itself forward with impressive consistency. There is rarely a slow moment.

That said, however, I do think the book has its flaws, which are much more pronounced in this book than in the previous one. It has some substantial pacing issues – we fly through many setpieces with reckless abandon, and the writing sometimes suffers for it. There is almost something slapdash about the prose that McClellan employs – it is functional and tells the story, but they seem strung together without much thought, almost as if he were dictating his novel into a recorder and then transcribing everything verbatim. There is little sense of place to the settings he describes, which is a shame, because the broad sketches he has made of Adopest and other environs hint at an interesting and novel world. Some dramatic moments seem…hammy, almost as though McClellan can’t wait for the reader to finish the scene, and connects the narrative dots in the most direct way that he can. The frenetic pacing is the root of all these problems.

As a piece of entertainment, however, it can’t be faulted for its value in that regard. In that sense it’s a very cinematic novel, and I think it might do quite well on screen.

I do also want to flag that the book does have its share of “manifest destiny” type character tropes. All the characters are superhuman by birth or have had powers thrust upon them as befits the narrative. It’s a little sloppy in terms of plot, but it’s still well within my threshold of suspension of disbelief.

And what’s with nobody in the book having last names?

I give this book: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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