It's been awhile since I've reviewed a book by a "major author", since most of the fiction I've been reading lately has either been small press stuff or older books that have been around long enough that a review won't help or hurt them. So without further ado, on to my normal blathering.
At The Queen's Command is the first book of the Crown Colonies series by Michael A. Stackpole, who is a New York Times Bestselling Author as the cover of the book is so proud to tell us. And well it should be. Getting onto that list is damn difficult, and any author would be more than pleased to get there. Heck, there are probably authors out there willing to sell a kidney to get on that list. (Not me. I like having both kidneys.)
I enjoyed the book. It was well written, with engaging characters and moved along at just the right pace. To give you an idea of the setting, imagine a world where the French Revolution predates the American Revolution. The war is set to spill over into the colonies and our man Captain Owen Strake of the Queen's Own Wurms is sent across the Pond to scout out the enemy and make a report. Of course, the nations involved are not France and England but their fantasy stand-ins. Still, if you know anything of early colonial history you'll find the inversion rather amusing, especially since it was Royalist France that aided America in revolting against the British. But enough jabbering about history.
From that simple opening the book goes on to plunge Owen into the woods, led by a trapper and his native guide/blood brother. There's love, betrayal, torture, zombies (yes, zombies. I know), magic, dragons, and a, well let me just call it a transformative ending. The colonies practically seethe with unrest, most of the "noble" characters are anything but, and the main antagonist is a complete monster, and dapper dresser. All in all, a good yarn.
The only thing about the book I really have an issue with is the way the firearms work. In order to shoot the characters need to channel magic through a firestone then touch that to brimstone powder to set it off. Very similar to the way historic muskets worked but with magic replacing physics/chemistry. Shouldn't be that odd right. The problem is, it's established early on that magic, for the longest time, was considered lower class and subsequently prosecuted/looked down upon. It wasn't until firearms came about that required magic in order to fire, that the upper class nobles suddenly found that they too could had traces of magic talent. My brain just rebels at the idea of magic being the only way to use firearms. I mean, if magic was held in low esteem, why would anyone research a way to use it to make firearms? Who in the lower classes would have the time, and who in the upper classes would fund it?
Add in the fact that each use of a firearm results in blood pooling in the arm used to trigger the firestone, meaning each trooper can only fire five or six shots at most before they're tapped out. What sane military would build a force around troops that can only fire six times at most before needing a break?
I did enjoy the book and plan to pick up the next one in the series. My issues with the firearms aside, it was a ripping adventure tale set in the fantasy equivalent of the New World. Originally I picked it up because I had an idea for a series very similar to this, set in a fantasy world at the Napoleonic level of technology, so seeing what other authors are doing will help me to avoid some of the pitfalls in creating such a world, and make my creation unique enough to stand out amongst the crowd.
Who knows, maybe I'll end up on the New York Times Best Sellers list someday. (I'm hopeful but not holding my breath.)