My exploration of Brian McClellan’s stories that act as prequels to Promise of Blood continues…
This is the story of how Taniel (Field Marshal Tamas’ son) and Vlora (Tamas’ ward and later on Taniel’s fiancée) met for the first time as children. Vlora was, to my deepest chagrin, something of a secondary character in Promise of Blood, while she was quite in the foreground in the first book of the new series, Sins of Empire, and since I liked her quite a bit I was of course curious to know more about her. Interesting as it is, this short story felt somewhat weaker than its predecessors, and did not involve me like the other ones.
Ten year old orphan Vlora is living in a sort of foster home, with other girls like her, but she’s hardly interested in ‘normal’ girlish activities: what truly attracts her are the weapons displayed outside gun smithies, and she relishes the smell of gunpowder, whose acrid taste fills her senses in a strange way. The area of the Old City where Vlora lives has been marked as the territory of the Bulldog Twins, a couple of bullies who enjoy tormenting smaller and weaker kids: Vlora’s previous encounters with them taught her to avoid the two at any cost, and that’s the reason she is surprised when a kid her own age, whose books have been thrown in the gutter by the twins, decides to react and fight back. The boy is Taniel, and he’s the one who will first speak to her about powder mages and their abilities.
If the story itself seemed more of a whimsy than a background filler, I liked the glimpses it offered of the city of Adopest and its seedier corners: as I’ve now come to expect from McClellan’s writing, the scenery takes shape before our eyes with cinematic quality and the reader can see the winding cobbled streets, the crowds milling about avoiding horses and carriages, the shopkeepers minding their wares. Young Vlora knows this world intimately and its harshness has taught her how to survive: I could see here where her amazing resiliency comes from and it added a few more details to her character as I’ve come to know it from Sins of Empire, but still there is not much more to this short tale than that.
Still, this world remains a fascinating one and I’m certain that these little bits of information will enhance my enjoyment of the Powder Mage trilogy, while they certainly make me look forward to starting on The Crimson Campaign, the second volume of the series.