The Thousand Names by Django Wexler – Book Review
*Be sure to scroll down to see a mini-review of the short story, Penitent Damned,
Django released on io9 here.*
The Thousand Names by newcomer Django Wexler is a gritty, soldiers’ novel that focuses more with life on campaign than traditional quest elements most often seen in fantasy. While a welcome departure from some of the tropes of fantasy it can at times feel more like a historical novel.
The story starts a little slow and doesn’t really start to pick up until around page 100. Despite this, Wexler has crafted a compelling narrative with characters that are quick to fall in love with. Those 100 pages, as well as the following 400, go by at a smooth pace and never really fails at keeping the reader’s attention because you can’t help but want more from both Winter and Marcus as their stories unfold.
The worldbuilding is interesting as Wexler chose to base his world on a time period that features the invention of guns and black powder. Combined with the varied faiths, racial distinctions as the soldiers lead a campaign on foreign soil, the glimpsed at magic system, and more, created a realistic and believable world that seems closer to a living breathing entity. There seems to be such depth to the world that if given this book as a child and told it was a historical account from our own world, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t believe it – despite the unfamiliar names and magic system that makes an appearance toward the end.
The story is told through the eyes of two characters, the first of which is Winter Ihernglass. Winter is a soldier in the Colonials, a force on the Khandar continent, who fled to the military to escape her past. Oh, and did I mention Winter is also a woman? In a tale similar to Mulan, Winter has found the best place to hide is in the military, where a woman is the last thing anyone would expect to see.
Things get interesting quick for Winter as she is quickly promoted to command and must use the skills she’s learned the few years in the military to lead and inspire her troops to continue marching and end a rebellion that’s brewed in the desert. I was always more excited to read her sections over Marcus as her character was relatable and easy to enjoy. Coupled with Wexler’s ability to blend enough mysteries concerning her backstory, it was easy to get drawn into the down-on-her-luck soldier as she’s forced to embrace command.
Opposite to Winter is Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, a commander of one of the Colonial garrisons. Despite wishes to the contrary he is soon put in a place of second-in-command to the new Colonel as he aims to end the rebellion and help restore the deposed Prince to his throne.
A soldier-type through and through, Marcus proved to be an interesting flip to Winter’s passages and while interesting always felt a little more stilted by comparison. The true shining moment in his chapters were the interactions with the new Colonel, Janus bet Vhalnich. A Napoleon Bonaparte inspired character whose tactical ingenuity, genius and oftentimes eccentric personality made him easily lovable and one of my favorite characters to read.
It takes a little while for any type of magic to make an appearance, yet Wexler manages to capture the audience’s attention in other manners, whether it be the powder smoke of battle or compelling characters that are forced to deal with surprising wrenches in the plan. When magic does finally get introduced it is very mysterious and mostly hidden, letting the readers imagination run a little wild with the tantalizing taste we’re given.
The narrative arc runs the risk of at times being slightly predictable but not in any way that was detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the events as they transpired. The end sets the stage wonderfully for The Shadow Throne with a return to the Vordanai continent as mysteries and secrets are revealed.
Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.
To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.
The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.
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Penitent Damned by Django Wexler – Short Story Review
For anyone that missed the link at the top of the page, be sure to go here and read this amazing short-story set in the world of The Shadow Campaign Trilogy.
The Penitent Damned is a wonderful short story that sets the stage for the events to come in The Thousand Names. I originally read this before reading the novel but have to admit I think it’s more enjoyable if read after Thousand Names.
This story follows Alex, an apprentice under the master thief Metzing, as they return to a city they swore off forever for one incredible job. Only Vordan City is also the home of Duke Orlanko and his secret police the Concordat.
Unlike The Thousand Names, this short story doesn’t waste any time in showcasing the magic of the world and some of the mysteries that are only glimpsed at in the novel.
It’s a wonderful story that brings depth to the worldbuilding and a taste of what’s to come as the series progresses. Alex is a fun character with an interesting set of skills and I hope that she will be making a future appearance in the series.