Last night, the group met to discuss Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. We had a rousing discussion (as usual), so I will try to hit some of the highlights of what readers had to say (with aliases for those who want them):
- Burt Macklin, FBI, started us off by saying, "I thought of a tag line for this one: "If you were disappointed with the inadequate amount of killing in 'Game of Thrones', you'll love 'The Promise of Blood'!"" Theresa added to this, citing the tagline on the book, "The Age of Kings is dead .... and I have killed it," saying "Promise delivered!"
- A few readers felt the book was very Brandon Sanderson-esque, and Hola said that for her, this was a pale imitation of Joe Abercrombie's work. She liked the worldbuilding, and the industrial age meets sorcery aspects of the book. However, she felt many of the main core concepts of the book have been handled better by other others, citing Rachel Aaron's Eli Monpress series.
- Another comment by Hola was that she never felt a connection to any characters that made her feel anxious for them. She wanted to feel invested, and it just didn't happen. We had some general discussion about some of the characters and how other readers also didn't feel a strong connection to most of them. Most readers found Ka-poel interesting, and many felt that the cook, Mihali, was a favorite. Hola mentioned that she appreciated that there were people of color in the book (although wondered why there needed to be so many harems).
- We had some general discussion about some of the female characters in the book. In Chuck Wendig's interview of McClellan, McClellan admits that female POV aren't his strong suit. Burt Macklin, FBI mentioned that it seemed like the author paid lip service to the female characters in this story, but there wasn't much depth to them. A few other readers mentioned that there was more focus on the appearances of females, but very little on the appearance of the males. Ed pointed out that this may have been because our main POV are coming from men; thus, we would be seeing any women that they happen to notice, through their eyes. Greg said that he found Nila's character to be interesting, and anticipated she would have more of a role to play in the next two books. However, Hola said that even though Nila was interesting, it seemed like her only reactions were in reaction to men, which led Theresa to mention that it seemed like you could do a Bechdel test here.
- Moving away from our discussion about the characters, a few readers brought up the religion vs. sorcery aspects to the book. Hola mentioned that it felt like it was set up like the Catholic religion, but she found it difficult to believe that no one knew about Kresimir's Promise (or took it seriously). Nathan agreed, saying that it seemed especially odd, considering the information was in books (until recently). Derek said he found it interesting that there was a lot of disbelief --- they use magic in this world, but then don't believe the cook is a god.
- Many readers said that they liked many elements of the story. Menolly said she liked the idea of snorting gunpowder, although she didn't quite understood how it worked (and wished for just a few more details). Theresa added that she wondered about how you could "use" gunpowder, considering that it seemed you could swallow it or snort it --- what about injecting it? Jen said that she liked how Taniel was addicted to gunpowder, and how this is something we don't always see with use of a magic-enhancing element. It's not that she liked that he was an addict; rather, that she appreciated that his addiction showed the darker side of using this kind of magic.
- Greg said that he appreciated that this seemed to be a big chunk of Napoleonic history (which is something McClellan does mention in his interview with Chuck Wendig).
- The bits of humor were enjoyed by many readers. Hola said that she actually wanted more, but agreed with Theresa, who said, "But when they were there, they were excellent."
- However, readers also said that while they liked a lot of the ideas in the story, that there were a lot of inconsistences. Menolly mentioned how at the end, it seemed like 500 cave lions came out of nowhere (prompting Greg to remark, "Now, it's World of Warcraft!"). Burt Macklin, FBI said that it seemed like "The Dalek problem:" 1 Dalek = Oh No!; 700 Daleks = whatever. Furry said that for her, there was no cohesive narration. She said that you can give it a bit of pass, because it's a first book, but you need to have someone that you can invest in, and a major voice. To her, Tamas was completely opaque. Hola said that she kept expecting characters to be more complex, but felt they had too much purity.
- The pacing was something that many readers felt was really slow at the beginning, although it did pick up. Ed said that he didn't take the story too seriously, so it felt like it moved along well. However, Menolly said she just couldn't get into the story. She said, "The people you wanted to be dead kept coming back!" Jen also said that she felt like she wanted to like it more, but just couldn't feel connected to the characters enough. The violence in the book didn't bother many readers, although this may have been because they didn't feel a strong connection to characters. As Jen said, "It's bloody, but not in the right way."
- Finally, Burt Macklin had mentioned that he sort of felt that McClellan thought of the admittedly bad*** line that's on the cover ("The age of kings is dead ... and I have killed it!") and then wrote the rest of the book around it. Looking back to our discussion of how many times female characters' physical appearance was detailed in the story, he came up with a line for a new book: "She had bubonic plague and curves in all the wrong places!" There's definitely an interesting story here that needs to be written.
The group's averaged-out rating of this book was a 3. The codes we gave it were: SAS, NARC, MIL, MAG, REL, MYT and FOOD
We always welcome more discussion! Please feel free to leave your thoughts on this book (or our discussion of it).