The Crimson Campaign

Brian McClellan
The Crimson Campaign Cover

The Crimson Campaign


I find myself thoroughly enjoying the Powder Mage series. Brian McClellan's star continues to rise, following up last year's debut Promise of Blood with a strong sequel. While there were some parts I thought he did better in the first book, others that were better in the second, overall I can't be happier with the direction this trilogy is taking.

The book starts out by easing readers back into the setting. With the help of an angry god, the Kez invasion into Adran territory is in full swing, after crushing Tamas' ambitious strike. Stranded behind enemy lines with only a small remnant of his army left to aid him, the indomitable field marshal begins to lead his soldiers back across the mountains to warn and defend his country. Meanwhile back in Adro, Inspector Adamat is frantic with desperation and fear for the fate of his wife and son, held captive by the depraved Lord Vetas.

In yet another part of the world, Tamas' son Taniel recovers from his injuries sustained in the pitched battle at the end of book one. While both Tamas and Adamat's plot lines are marked by their very clear and concise goals, Taniel's journey is a bit more complicated – but this also makes his character and story the most compelling, and more on that later.

But first, this "catch up" period at the beginning of the novel admittedly made for a slightly disjointed and slower start. However, I don't think The Crimson Campaign is alone when it comes to this; I find many sequels – and especially middle books of a trilogy – have to manage this balancing act of setting up the stage for the next phase of the story while still trying to hold the reader's attention and keep the momentum going. McClellan established a particular wide scope to begin with, following multiple characters all in separate parts of the world, so he had his work cut out for him. Considering everything that was happening, I think he did an impressive job. And once the story found its stride around the halfway point, I have to say there were no more issues with pacing.

Like I'd mentioned earlier, Taniel was the one who really shone in this one (and I find this interesting, since Adamat was my favorite in the first book, and I have to wonder if the third will be Tamas' turn). Both Tamas and Adamat had story lines that followed a logical progression – the former had to make his way back to Adro, while the latter needed to rescue his family – and while they were engaging in their own way, neither had the ups and downs that made Taniel's chapters so unpredictable and gripping.

The young powder mage first had to deal with the shock of awakening from a coma. Then struggle through a drug addiction that was the result of emotional trauma. Then come to terms with the news that his father might be dead. Then he had to go and get tangled up in the politics and infighting of the army. It was one big roller coaster ride with Taniel, and every turn had me wondering what would happen next. I loved everything about his story, which includes a deepening relationship between him and the mysterious woman Ka-poel, his ever loyal companion. I'm also intrigued by the changes in Taniel as a result of what happened to him at the end of Promise of Blood. This books hints at much greater and more intense developments to come on that front.

Another thing I would expect from a sequel is more world-building, and character development. In this, The Crimson Campaign did not disappoint. I'm still blown away by the hierarchy of magic users in his Powder Mage universe, and McClellan made sure to expand our knowledge of Marked, Privileged, and Knacked powers alike. I also noticed much more "screen time" in here for the female characters. Vlora, Nila and Ka-poel were all characters I wanted to learn more about, and I got my wish here. I was especially thrilled about Nila, who didn't get much attention in Promise of Blood, but a huge bombshell dropped about her at the end of this book has me very excited about the future of her role.

What more can I say but, bring on The Autumn Republic! Something tells me that the third and final book of the trilogy will have just as much energy and impact, if not more. It's so great to see this series going strong, and the way things are going I can only see things ending with a bang.