Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Shadow Throne Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Django Wexler
Publisher: Roc
Genre: Flintlock Fantasy, Military Fantasy
Series: The Shadow Campaigns Book Two
Pages: 498

Buy on Amazon!

(Spoilers for The Thousand Names are below).

The Thousand Names was a well written debut. However there were issues with the plot, which could get really predictable, and Jen Alhundt’s short-lived relationship with Marcus came across as unbelievable. With a predictable plot, there’s not always a whole lot of motivation to dig into a sequel by that author, but Django Wexler’s three main characters – Winter, Janus, and Marcus – were strong enough to see the story to an enjoyable conclusion, plus all the historical and military details established a well thought out world.

Most second books in a fantasy series tend to struggle, too, but I decided to plow ahead with reading this sequel. Thankfully … Django Wexler delivers. Everything about The Shadow Throne is better than The Thousand Names.  The character development, the plots, the social relevance, the historical details, the worldbuilding, the exploitation of the magic system, all of it.

The Shadow Throne begins shortly after Janus has acquired the Thousand Names in Khandar.  With news that the King of Vordan is dieing, Janus races back to Vordan City with Marcus and Winter in tow. Once the king dies the kingdom will pass in name to his daughter Raesinia, but in reality control of the kingdom will belong to Orlanko the Last Duke who runs Vordan’s Ministry of Information and has spent decades abusing his power, eliminating political opponents, selling out the country to the Borelgai banks, and working with the Black Priests – the fanatics that sent Jen Alhundt to Khandar.

Orlanko, only spoken as a boogie man type of character in The Thousand Names is a narrator in this book, and it finally allows some light to be shed on some of the motivations of the antagonists.
Raesinia is the other new major narrator added by Wexler, and she is focused on freeing herself from Orlanko’s grip, while pretending to be the pawn Princess Orlanko thinks she is.  Raesinia’s introduction to the story is brilliant as Wexler immediately reveals the secret Orlanko holds over the Princess in a truly shocking fashion when she jumps out a four story window, breaks most of her bones, only to walk away from the scene moments later.  This is how Raesinia sneaks out of the castle at night.  She does this on a daily basis so she can work on developing a revolution with students at the University. Although the students don’t know she’s the future Queen, or that she has powerful magic stored within her body, she and her maidservant Sothe (really a skilled assassin) begin to work on turning popular opinion against the Last Duke.

While Raesinia is covertly inciting the masses, Janus returns to the capital and begins to position himself against Orlanko. Janus, like in The Thousand Names continues to be his typical enigmatic self: never telling the other characters’ his plans, nor revealing any insight to his long term goals. He puts Marcus and Winter to work for him pretty quickly though.  Marcus becomes Captain of the Armsmen, the military/police force of Vordan City. He spends some time investigating the fire that saw the demise of his immediate family, while getting caught between the rising Civil unrest, his orders from Janus, and the various threats that the people working with Orlanko present. Marcus is given enough to do where he still remains relevant and interesting to the story, but it’s Winter who steals the limelight.

Winter is tasked by Janus to infiltrate the Leatherbacks, a group of young women who have considerable influence over the part of town called the Docks. This means that Winter finally gets to be a woman. In an early reveal I wasn’t to thrilled about initially, but it eventually worked itself out in the long-run, Winter’s long lost lover Jane (now called Mad Jane) turns out to be the leader of the Leatherbacks.  The Leatherbacks are also unhappy with Orlanko’s rule, but they’re more focused on protecting the dock workers from the tax farmers who keep pinching them for every penny they make. In The Thousand Names, Winter is revealed to be a lesbian, but that aspect of her life was not explored much.  This sequel spends a good time exploring Winter and Jane’s relationship, and I was relieved that it was handled a whole lot better than the romance  between Marcus and Jen.

Some of the best fantasy today has seen a lot of inverted concepts dominating the plot.  Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy inverts cliched fantasy tropes, Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy inverts the antihero story arc, and The Shadow Throne inverts the typical fantasy gender roles for almost all of its major characters. Sothe is not just a bland chambermaid, she’s an ass kicking assassin.  Raesinia is not just a pawn waiting to be manipulated, she’s a political activist with some powerful magic abilities to boot. Jane is a successful leader of an organization that protects the men living in her part of town. Winter is not another women trying to prove she can do all the things men can do, she’s a beacon of hope for women in this story who don’t wish to be oppressed by the patriarchal society they live in. Orlanko is a shady schemer who’s workings with magic resembles the roles found by most traditional “witch” or female magical antagonists … the same can be said of Janus. Marcus spends a lot of his time being a damsel in distress. Multiple times throughout the story Marcus finds himself being saved or aided by women, the exact opposite of what should be happening to this story’s knight errant.

The social commentary goes beyond gender roles and LGBT relationships, it also explores political activism and mob mentality, corrupt taxing and banking, and the challenges of running a truly democratic government.  The Shadow Throne breaks away from the military fantasy genre that defined it’s predecessor, and has instead formed something that feels new.  While it’s still greatly indebted to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the historical time period it focuses on, plus the political issues in the world, and personal issues of the characters allow for this book to stand strongly on its own.

Score: 9.4

No comments:

Post a Comment