As a short aside so readers will understand, gunpowder fantasy is a fantasy setting which features gunpowder weapons, ranging from flintlocks to full fledged firearms. Much like Brandon Sanderson's Alloy of Law, Stephen King's Dark Tower series or Brian McClellan's A Promise of Blood. However some books only feature guns to help differentiate them from epic fantasy, gunpowder fantasy is revolved around fitting magic into an advanced setting outside the middle ages. The Cerberus Rebellion by Joshua Johnson does just that.
The world of the Cerberus Rebellion is an interesting one, the Kingdom of Ansgar is ruled by a paranoid and brooding king, Eadric Garrard, who sees the rise of the Chisean Empire across the seas as a potential future threat to his own realm. Egged on by foreign diplomats and by his own advisers he decides to martial his armies and intervene in the conflict across the Vast Sea and safeguard his realm.
However, Eadric is not a well loved king, and not all his subjects are as eager to go to war as he. Then we have Magnus Jarmann, ruler of Kerberos, once a sovereign nation, now under the heel of the Asangari occupation. He is eager to win his realm's independence back, all he has to do is wait for the right moment. Finally we have Lord Raedan Clive, Baron of the Broken Plains who is a warrior first and foremost, a politician second.
This delightful cast of diverse main characters, each with competing interests and ideas, sets us up for a thrill ride through politics and war.
There are of course plenty of fun secondary characters in the series, like Raedan's brother Hadrian, and the king's advisers who all color the events of the novel depending on their own outlook. They serve as wonderful supporting characters who fill in the dynamics of the story and serve as windows into the upper crust of the world.
The story itself is not slow at all. From the get go we see things moving both militarily and politically. What helps this along of course is that it is in a setting where you don't rely on just men on horseback but telegrams and railroads which all speed along the important messages and allow for very little lag time. Here I have to applaud Johnson for his skillful mix of court intrigue and politics with the practical and often harsh realities of early industrial war and the nitty gritty of the battle field.
The resulting combination is something akin to Game of Thrones meets Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series.
It's an interesting world with politics that are distinctly feudal in their application (for instance landed aristocracy still holds an enormous amount of power compared to our world in a similar time) and one which is clearly influenced by such. It combines the appendages of a modern and centralized state with those of a late medieval one where the king controls all the armories with the best weapons and artillery, but the aristocracy can still call on a powerful military levy of its own.
It's even reflected brilliantly in some of the battle scenes! There is no national uniform for any of the armies so the infantry marches to war in their house colors, which causes immense confusion and disorder on the battlefield (similar to our own histories Napoleonic Wars with soldiers lack of standard uniforms leading to friendly fire incidents) and is something the characters comment on more than once.
|Think this, only just a bit more confusing.|
It's also a sort of fascinating look into a society where a medieval style of command and control still reigns with titles of aristocracy such as 'Knight Commander' sitting in the chain of command alongside more familiar ones like lieutenant and major. The lack of a true unified command structure in most cases too makes for some rather interesting, and in one or two cases unfortunate, situations.
The battles of course are superbly done with little confusion from the point of view of the characters, and we get what is, in my opinion, a good vague outline of the actual battlefield and course of the battle itself while dealing with what only the character on the ground sees and then once the battle is done do we see the full scope of the action and what has happened. From a narrative perspective it makes things more thrilling and tense as the characters don't fully grasp how they are affected in the thick of it, yet they tend to make great leaps and advances.
Of course they are not military fools and at a few points characters make great leaps which change the course of battle thanks to good foresight and clever maneuvering of their forces.
Now one criticism I would have is that of the roughly six battles we see in the book only two are presented in great detail to the end. Sometimes the author forms a wonderful and suspenseful buildup to a turning point in the battle, only for us to miss it completely and have the narrative skip straight to the aftermath. While it was a bit of a suspense killer it did hasten the events of the novel along and I won't say the story suffered greatly for it.
The character interaction too is fun and educational, giving us details about the world these characters live in. The sub-plot focusing around the potential marriage of Raedan in order to sire an heir and cement his claim the Broken Plains is fun and quite amusing since it shows off Raedan's personal strengths and weaknesses, alongside his magical abilities.
Another thing I would like to congratulate the author on is his inclusion of elves in the story without making it feel cliched or shoe-horned in to fit the necessary fantasy mold. The elves seem to be perfectly natural in the world and they insert themselves as individual characters and personalities alongside their human counterparts with their long lived and magical nature filling an important niche in noble politics.
The inclusion of magic too was well done, though at times it did seem like a secondary focus of the plot, but it played an important role in Raedan's story arc. The way magic is handled was interesting to me, especially how it plays into the nature of griffons and how one controls them.
All in all the book is a wonderful read with a climax which leaves you begging for more. Johnson shows off his stuff as a writer with great promise leaving us with a fascinating new fantasy world to explore. I say the book is worth a read as it is a nice long read at a very affordable price. I would say that you could do well to part with three dollars for more than three hours of entertainment.
On a related note Johnson has a wonderful website where he posts about his world, industrial fantasy in general, and updates on his writing projects. He also has a myriad of short stories available on Amazon. This is his Facebook page, if anything here has intrigued you, check him out!