We have something called the “20% rule” here at The Quill to Live. We believe that a sizable number of authors simply don’t know how to start a book. It is the single most common issue we find with novels; authors have great ideas and prose but just don’t know how to get the story moving from page one. This birthed the “20% rule”, we never give up on a book until we have read at least 20%, as many books take off after the initial build up. This rule sparks a lot of discussion with the team on what I would consider a GOOD introduction for a comparison point, and whenever I am asked this I always say “anything by Brian McClellen”. This long winded introduction is simply to bring up that Brian McClellen is one of the punchiest, exciting, and fun writers I have read – and his recently concluded Powder Mage Trilogy is a real bang (reviewed here). This year Brian has launched a brand new spin off series in a different part of the world, but it isn’t a sequel…
… or so he says but I am actually going to disagree. Brian if it look, talks, and feels like a sequel, it is probably a sequel. Brian’s first book in his new trilogy, Sins of Empire, is a new chapter on a new continent with a newish cast – but for those of you looking for more of the story from the first trilogy you will definitely get your fill. The first trilogy ends at the culmination of a major war that almost destroyed the country of Adro. Tired of a war that spanned multiple books, the side characters Vlora and Odem from the first trilogy decide to take a mercenary army and travel to the frontier of civilization to seek employment. Once there they quickly become embroiled in local politics and revealing anymore would be spoilery.
Sins of Empire is a really interesting book to review, because McClellen has both grown as an author tremendously – but also feels like he should get a little more out of his comfort zone. First the bad: the POV structure of Sins of Empire is identical to The Powder Mage Trilogy (three POVs – a general, a warrior, and a spy). I would have liked to see Brian mix up his cast a little more, but despite retreading old ground he has shown enormous improvement. Brian’s first trilogy had an incredible plot, but it showed clear signs of being made up as he went. The books had this lingering feeling that Brian thought of amazing plot elements he wanted to incorporate, but always thought of them a little too late. This resulted in some confusing pacing of the plot and a few aggressive advancements of character development to catch them up to the rest of the cast. Brian clearly learned a lot from this because Sins of Empire has none of these issues. The book has some of the best pacing I have ever read (and he still knows how to start a novel with a bang), and the intrigue surrounding what is going on almost resulted in me finishing the book in one sitting. Sins is one of the most exciting books I have read this year and the ending left me begging for more.
While I made negative comments about Brian not expanding the cast a bit, I actually love his new trio. Vlora, the adoptive daughter of Tamas from the first series, has been wonderfully fleshed out and is a joy to read about. Likewise, Michel and Styke both bring a lot of fresh perspective to their roles and it took me about 30 pages to get attached to all of them. The location for the book is a place previously talked about in the first trilogy. The world building in Sins does a great job both giving you more information on past books while also bringing an entire new location to life. The city of Landfall where most of the story takes place is a captivating place with a very cool culture. I was a big fan of the roses that demarcate rank in the government roles as well as Brian’s inventive ghettos in the Greenfire Depths. Sins is the perfect blend of old and new, quenching my thirst for more of the plot from books 1-3 and building an entirely new platform to launch a new story from.
Sins of Empire blew my expectations out of the water and I am so excited to see Brian fix issues I had with his first series. The Powder Mage Trilogy is one of my favorite series despite its narrative and pacing problems, but Sins is on an entirely different level. If you enjoyed his first trilogy, if you want to check out a great flintlock fantasy, if you just enjoy great books it would be an…empire-sized sin…for you to miss this new series from Brian McClellan.
Rating: Sins of Empire – 10/10