Some books are made for train rides.
I must admit, I tore through The Autumn Republic perhaps a little too fast – I was done in about three days, and this was only reading on the commute to and from work. This final installment in the Powder Mage trilogy is every bit as fast-paced as the previous two books, with the added – and tantalizing bonus of having all the plot lines converge into their inevitable conclusion.
As far as trilogies go, the Powder Mage series has all the predictable variations in quality. While the first book was fresh and inventive, and the second book an overly fast-paced bridge novel, this third book is a bit of a synthesis of the two. It improved upon the frenetic and slapdash feel of the Crimson Campaign while bringing the series to a dramatic high not seen since the final pages of Promise of Blood. I’d order it second best in terms of quality, with the first being Promise of Blood and the third the Crimson Campaign.
As far as endings went though, McClellan constructs a competent, but oddly perfunctory, denouement. The conclusion of the story was foreordained. There was no way our characters could lose in a fashion that could serve as a fitting capstone to the series. As such, they had to win, and the winning conditions were quite clear. Adopest had to be retaken, Kez defeated, and the gods vanquished. With that ending in mind, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots from the end of the second book to the end of the third. It was just a matter of the telling. In a sense, McClellan’s less frenetic pacing was crucial to the success of this novel – knowing the inevitable ending, we need to enjoy its telling more than we need to know how it ends. Thematically, McClellan also sets up a strong character arc – one that involves handing the torch – which culminates in necessary character deaths. In that sense, I also read the book with some trepidation. Reading scene after scene and expecting one of McClellan’s signature sudden character-killing moments contributed to the dramatic tension of the story.
The Autumn Republic ends quite satisfactorily. I wouldn’t call it a particularly great ending, but it is one that ties up most of the main plot strands. Some things, like the conveniently overpowered magic demonstrated by some of the characters, are never quite explained, leading to a vague sense of unease at the contrivance of the plot. But McClellan is promising a sequel series, so perhaps some of the finer points of worldbuilding, especially with regards to the people of the mysterious Ka-Poel, will be addressed in future books.
McClellan’s strengths are in his ability to create compelling fantasy worlds, and his ability to tell a rip-roaring yarn, even if the telling has its share of rough edges. But this is no epic fantasy, it is more of an impressionist painting than a painstakingly crafted work of realism. It can be enjoyed on its own terms, as a wild, imperfect, but always entertaining ride.
I give this series: 4 out of 5 magic walls