I have always said that I love when an author adds new work to their worlds or universes, and that short fiction, either novella or short story format, is the absolute most enjoyable way for an author to make it happen. Lots of authors are doing this in the last couple of years, but Brian McClellan might very well be the best. With each additional short story or novella he has managed to expand the Powder Mage universe in wonderful ways that bring the most beloved characters to the forefront as new details about their lives are revealed, and as new characters and events come to join the fray.
The Ghosts of Tristan Basin is the newest installment of Powder Mage short fiction, and while I’m a massive fan of McClellan’s earlier endeavors, I think this novella might be the very best yet. My favorite characters in the Powder Mage books are as follows: Field Marshal Tamas, Taniel Two-Shot, and Ka-poel. There are others that I love, but those three seal the deal for me personally. I was thrilled to discover in the first few pages of this novella that Taniel and Ka-poel were going to be front and center for the entire time. I’ve dreamed of learning more about what the two of them did together and how they became a team in the first place. Their relationship is complex, mysterious, and at times, downright hilarious. Why wouldn’t you want to know more about the two of them?
Over the course of The Ghosts of Tristan Basin we get to follow Taniel and Ka-poel as they spend their time mired in the Tristan Basin, a swampland full of terrible smells, dangerous waters, and two armies vying for position. Taniel is a leader in the Ghost Irregulars, a ragtag group of soldiers who excel at silently sneaking throughout the basin, tracking down and eliminating Kez forces that are trying to invade. Ka-poel’s people, the Palo, serve as guides through the swamp, but they all seem to dislike her, for reasons still unknown. She sticks close to Taniel as he goes about taking down Kez forces, and aids him in his efforts to thwart the threat of Kez sorcerers as the Kez army advances on Planth, the city at the heart of Tristan Basin.
I don’t want to give away too many details about the plot of The Ghosts of Tristan Basin because it’s not a very long read, but there is one thing I can’t help but mention: The arrival of Ben Styke. Commander of the Mad Lancers, an armored heavy calvary unit aiding in the protection of the basin, Ben Styke might be the most amazing thing about this novella. Brian McClellan has already mentioned on social media that Ben Styke is a viewpoint character of his new trilogy of Powder Mage books, of which the first arrives next spring. I don’t want to sound like I’m exaggerating things too much, but reading The Ghosts of Tristan Basin has increased my anticipation of McClellan’s new books by about a hundredfold.
There are so many great things about this novella, including all of the nuanced details about Taniel and Ka-poel, but Ben Styke steals the show. He’s brash, cocky, entirely without fear, and let’s just say he does something to a Warden that will astound any fan of the original Powder Mage trilogy. There is something special about this new character, something that McClellan gives only the tiniest of glimpses about, but it’s going to be amazing down the road. I’m sure of it.
If you haven’t read any of the Powder Mage books or short fiction before, The Ghosts of Tristan Basin is actually a great place to make your first foray into the dynamic world that Brian McClellan has created. You’ll be exposed to two of the pivotal characters from the original trilogy of books, receive a few hints about one or two more, and get a nice grasp of the conflict between the nations that permeates the books; all without spoiling a single thing that takes place later on in the timeline. If you’ve been hesitant to jump in, take a dip here with this novella as it will serve you rather well in getting to know the world and the skill McClellan has with the written word.
The Ghosts of Tristan Basin is approximately 90 pages long, and was published by the author, Brian McClellan, on February 16, 2016. Further commentary on the novella can be found at Goodreads.