Even in the ever malleable realms of fantastical fiction, the mixture of gun-power and spell-casting has always been a unique angle. Blending something so solidly defined in human history with an element which is more closely associated with swords and sorcery, is a contradiction which can be hard to fully meld. In some cases it can lead to a mere clash of elements, as one is tacked onto the other, but books like Sins of Empire prove that this can be an incredible combination in the right hands.
Tying into the Power Mage trilogy, the series here delves into a rebellion against the ruling powers and a threat from the mysterious godstones unearthed across the land. The brilliance of this is that it allows the book to freely examine both extremes of the setting, while allowing each to cross over when needed. While each starts at an opposing point, it allows them to fully explore the opposing states of the world before joining up; fully establishing each in its own right before beautifully melding them together.
None of this is to say that the book is completely bound to world building, as the core focus always remains on the characters themselves. There are few unlikable choices here and, while Mad Ben Styke steals every scene he's in, others such as Michel easily weave between intrigue, horror and action without missing a beat. This offers the book the kind of varied style rarely seen outside of a Discworld book, permitting it to completely shift tones between pages but rarely have it seem at odds with the work. Combined with some of the more subtle hints dropped surrounding the big name threat, this thankfully gives Sins of Empire an incredible degree of re-reading value.
The only real sin of the book is the way certain details are delivered. Exposition is ever a requirement in any unusual world if it is to stand on its own two feet. Yet McClellan has the unfortunate habit of trying to drop details mid-conversation. A habit which leads to some very clunky expository scenes at times, with characters almost engaging in "As you know" conversations. It doesn't kill the story, but it can push you to skip one or two vital scenes out of frustration.
Anyone seeking to get into the flintlock fantasy genre, or even hungering for a magical realm a few rungs further up the technological ladder would do well to give this one a look. With an engaging mystery, terrifying possibilities, likable characters and an incredibly detailed world to delve into, there's little reason not to grab this one.
SINS OF EMPIRE / AUTHOR: BRIAN MCCLELLAN / PUBLISHER: ORBIT BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW