At this stage of the game I have come to terms with the fact that I am unlikely to read any good writing during my fantasy phase, and that I should instead rely solely on plot, world building and, to a lesser extent, characters.
It is laughable, of course, to ever really discuss any of the characters in these kinds of books as having a personality – they are a series of impulses directed toward achieving the goals of the plot – but there’s usually something there. A character will have some broad stroke of personality. They may regret something. They may dislike a certain kind of food or what have you. They may enjoy certain words. That’s as deep as it goes, and generally speaking, it’s enough. Everyone is bearable, except for those who have ridiculous vocal tics.
World building is pretty self-explanatory. I dislike worlds with dragons and elves. I am fine with medieval technology (to a point), but I prefer the 17th or 18th century (and would actually love some recommendations in that space). I dislike science fiction of any kind. I dislike excessive or silly magic (Hi, Brent Weeks!). I dislike prophecy as used by David Eddings (say), but I’m fine with it in small doses. I like religion existing in a world, but not if it is only there to be corrupt. I strongly dislike any kind of shamanism or animalistic magic.
And plot. Well, that’s all these books are. Something happens, and something else is going to happen unless characters do things. Occasionally characters have sufficient agency that they desire to achieve something, and then that becomes the plot. Plots that rely on secrets being hidden from the reader or the protagonist are generally not to my taste, and I don’t like it when characters who have been passive throughout an entire book suddenly reveal great powers in order to help wrap up matters.
Now, with all that said, I actually rather liked Promise of Blood. The blurb on the back of the book breathlessly compares McClellan’s trilogy to that of the French Revolution, which is what initially attracted me to it. I will say that this comparison is completely bunk, has no basis in any kind of reality, and is actually pretty insulting. A good chunk of fantasy readers enjoy history, too, and they’ll see through that straight away. But! What it is, is rather enjoyable. The King has been overthrown, a military figure has taken over, and trouble is a-brewing. There’s a nebulously define other country which seeks the ruin of our new friends, and it seems that perhaps the gods are returning. Magic exists, but it’s pretty neat – I won’t go into too much detail (because who cares) but my favourite type was the Powder Mage, which allows someone to use a substance similar to gunpowder to direct bullets and so forth, and to ignite the powder and transfer the energy with their… mind I guess. And it’s also used as a kind of snuff/cocaine, which was a great touch.
I liked the book for one main reason, however. Adamat. This is a character who is presented early on with a problem. Someone is a traitor, and Adamat needs to find out who. So, he wanders the city and talks to people, mostly powerful folk in charge of the various factions who are jostling for power, and through this I learned about the world. His activities were compelled by something reasonably mundane – detective work – and something that also has an analogue to my world. So, relatable.
I will say that the last 100 pages kind of indicated to me that it’s very likely this trilogy will end up too magic-y and silly. We’ll see. I will read the next one, but not for a while.
The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read this year.