Peter picks a pair of precariously plotted paperbacks

BY PETER ELLISON

This debut fantasy thriller from Brian McClellan and Orbit Books, clocking in at 545 pages, marks the beginning of an intriguing series set in the new genre of Napoleonic Fantasy.

 

“Promise of Blood” begins with main character Tamas overthrowing the corrupt king of a country that resembles pre-revolutionary France. However, a rogue member of the new government and the impending invasion by a foreign power leaves no rest for our heroes.

 

The easiest way to describe the setting is French Revolution with magic. Out of this fairly cliché premise two subplots emerge: a war campaign and a mystery, both wholly original to make the book a very fun read.

 

But as I read this book, I came to the conclusion that this was a poorly written book. I also concluded that I didn’t care. While the prose isn’t anything to write home about, the fast-paced action and extremely well-thought-out world and setting easily make up for this deficiency.

 

I’m a sucker for good world-building, and “Promise of Blood” delivers. A central part of the plot is the conflict between the Powder Mages and the powerful Privileged Sorcerers. The magic systems for the Powder Mages blend perfectly into the setting. While the Privileged Sorcerers are more traditional wizard figures, they have rich lore that still makes them interesting.

 

If you’re looking for the perfect book, keep looking—you’re not going to find it—but if you’re looking for a masterfully planned and fun adventure, “Promise of Blood” is the book for you.

 

“The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

 

Originally published in 2006 but only recently translated from Chinese, this 396-paged Hugo Award-winning novel written by Cixin Liu and published by Tom Doherty Associates takes a standard ‘first contact’ story and turns it into something completely new.

 

“The Three-Body Problem” follows Wang Miao, a Chinese scientist, as he is pulled into a government investigation looking into a rash of high-profile scientists committing suicide. It appears that someone or something has been tampering with their research. As Wang dives deeper into the investigation, he discovers a bizarre virtual reality simulation posing a seemingly impossible question. Thread by thread, Wang unravels the mystery until the truth is discovered.

 

This book is genuinely brilliant. It perfectly creates the sense of wonder that fiction tries to capture. It incorporates new technology into an old mystery style that really makes it unique. Additionally, it is set in both the Chinese Cultural Revolution as well as the modern day, creating a synthesis between past and present that lends the book terrible plausibility.

 

My one complaint is also what I love about it. This book is written by a scientist for scientists, and as such, it doesn’t hold back in any way with fairly complicated scientific and mathematical ideas. For reference, the very title and a major part of the story references a mathematical conundrum deemed unsolvable in the 19th century. This could make the book a little boring for someone without an interest in math or science.

 

Most importantly, “The Three-Body Problem” prompts real thought. It focuses on the question of whether humans actually deserve what they have.

 

I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in math or science, or maybe just anyone.