Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Thousand Names Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Django Wexler
Publisher: Roc
Genre: Flintlock Fantasy, Military Fantasy
Series: The Shadow Campaigns Book One
Pages: 513

Buy on Amazon!

The Thousands Names is the first book in Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns, a planned five book series. Wexler combines a character named chapter structure that’s similar to the style George R.R. Martin uses in Game of Thrones, while writing in the genre of a flintlock military fantasy.

The combination’s pretty effective as Wexler gives readers some well flushed out main characters, but a pretty straight forward plot that only really opens up at the end.  Nevertheless we’d recommend Wexler’s book to fans of military fantasy, character driven fantasy, and historical influenced fantasy – particularly if you’re interested in military history from the 18th and 19th centuries.

A rebellion in the Vordanai Empire’s desert province of Khandar has demoralized their colonial troops stationed there.  The Vordanai Empire doesn’t wish to surrender these lands to the rebels, so they send Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a military genius to stop their rebellion.

For Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, Janus’ arrival means he will relinquish command and return to following orders. For Winter Ihernglass, Janus’ arrival means a promotion to sergeant, which is just the thing she was wishing to avoid since women aren’t allowed in the army.

However, Winter and Marcus begin to suspect that Janus is after more than just military victories as he leads the Colonials deeper and deeper into the desert and away from home.

Military fiction tends to be heavy on the details with military weaponry, ranks, formations, and other jargon.  Military fantasy really tones this aspect of military fiction down.  For Django Wexler he seems to strike a balance between the two, he never gets bogged down in the details of the guns his characters are killing each other with, but at the same time he impresses with some extensive knowledge of 19th century warfare. The characters march in formation, they load and prime muskets, and they form different firing lines.

The battle sequences are very suspenseful.  Knowing that the characters really only have one, maybe two shots if their lucky, before thousands of angry enemies charge into them makes for a lot of intense battles. Nothing works up a strong, fast heart beat like waiting for your death via an angry mob of armed soldiers. The battles also take on a very realistic air, as fantasy elements are toned during these parts of the story.

Magic plays an important role in driving the plot, but this is not a magic heavy book. Spells aren’t being thrown every which way, nor is there clearly explained rules for how the magic works.  In this sense the magic system resembles magic from Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones. At the end of the book, the role of magic is opened up a bit more, and I expect it will play a much more prominent role in the sequels.

There are essentially two narrators that tell most of the story: Winter and Marcus.  Marcus is a pretty straightforward military man, who respects the chain of command but is tired of the desert and his station. His draw isn’t so much his personality or personal story, but rather the relationships he crafts with other characters.  Some of these relationships work real well, like his role as a go-between Janus and the other Captains.  The interests of the Colonel and the other Captains are not one in the same, and Marcus must often make difficult choices at the expense of one group or the other. Other relationships don’t work well, like Marcus and his flirtatious relationship with Jennifer Alhundt, which lacks believability the moment it begins to take place.  By the books conclusion that relationship contradicts each of the characters’ hard driving ambitions, which makes you wonder why these characters had a romantic relationship in the first place?

Winter is a woman trapped in a man’s world … literally … as she’s a female pretending to be a male soldier.  Her promotion to sergeant puts her at a much greater risk of being caught and outed.  Why she joined the army in the first place, is eventually revealed, along with some other secrets she’s been hiding.  It’s through Winter’s perspective that a lot of the battles and the nitty-gritty of the marching formations and weapon functions are revealed to the reader.  Her narrations also tend to be a lot more emotional than Marcus’ and thus they resonated with me and left a stronger impression.

The plot is straight-forward and features little complexities.  Early on in the book, it’s revealed that the Colonial reinforcements are accompanied by a very powerful wizard, although that the reveal is saved for the end.  Needless to say the average reader should pick out the wizard pretty quickly, making it a less than dramatic reveal.  Despite some flaws with the predictability in the plot, the ending opens up some interesting directions for the sequels – sequels that I would definitely be interested in reading.

Score: 8.0

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