In Sins of Empire, Brian McClellan makes his explosive return to the world of THE POWDER MAGE trilogy with a sequel series called GODS OF BLOOD AND POWDER. Sins of Empire (2017) is the first GODS OF BLOOD AND POWDER novel, so I’d recommend checking out THE POWDER MAGE trilogy first before picking up this book. If you’re curious about McClellan’s work, you can check our reviews here: Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, and The Autumn Republic, or visit McClellan’s small but dedicated fanbase over at /r/PowderMage. Since it’s been two years since McClellan’s last novel in this world, a good (but spoiler-filled) refresher of the plots of THE POWDER MAGE can be found on /r/PowderMage: book 1, book 2, and book 3.
Eleven years after the events of THE POWDER MAGE trilogy, Vlora and the cream of the Adrastan army have left The Nine to become mercenaries in Fatrasta. A nation who only recently won its war of independence from Kez, Fatrasta is reaching a boiling point as tensions between indigenous peoples and immigrants from The Nine come to a head. That’s why mid-level Michel Bravis of Fatrasta’s secret policy has been assigned a mission to calm things down. Amidst this background, former war hero and convicted felon Benjamin Styke has just escaped prison and is on a secret mission to infiltrate Vlora’s mercenary crew while ancient magic is sprouting up in the most unexpected places…
McClellan’s Sins of Empire is representative of his signature style: packed with enthralling action scenes and an undercurrent of political scheming, all with a feeling that something big and magical is coming on the horizon. As I said in my review of The Autumn Republic, McClellan’s plot is complex and fast-paced, pulling you in like a riptide and refusing to let go. McClellan does a fantastic job of creating tension and making you feel emotionally invested in Fatrasta’s problems with colonization and ethnic conflict; you just can’t put Sins of Empire down once you’ve picked it up! Plot twists weren’t as unexpected for me as in THE POWDER MAGE, though there were still some surprises here and there.
One aspect of Sins of Empire I thought needed a bit more work was the character development. There’s surprisingly little character development going on, and I would really like for there to have been at least one or two compelling narrative arcs of a character maturing or learning to navigate the complexity of Fatrasta’s class/ethnic systems in more depth (this doesn’t happen to the extent I think it should have). However, I think most of this is forgivable given some of the later plot twists and the worldbuilding that McClellan does — the setting of Sins of Empire is very different from the previous trilogy’s, so it’s understandable for me that McClellan chooses to focus on worldbuilding and plot rather than character development.
All in all, Sins of Empire is a must-read for anyone who’s read the first trilogy. If you’re a fan of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades, or Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, I highly recommend giving McClellan’s works a try (start with Promise of Blood).