Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Thousand Names (Django Wexler)

The Thousand Names
(The Shadow Campaigns series, Book 1)
Django Wexler
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Khandar, a land of scrub and desert and rustic gray-skinned natives beyond the Demon Sea, was a sleepy, out-of-the-way colony under the banner of the Vordanai, a place soldiers only went when they messed up their careers - or when they wanted to hide. Captain Marcus d'Ivoire had nothing left in his homeland save painful memories when he joined up with the Colonials. It was a quiet place, aside from the odd raider strike... until the flames of the Redeemer swept the Khandarai people into a nationalist fervor, rising up to drive out the pale-skinned invaders. Gone soft from years of lax discipline, it was all the soldiers could do to flee the capital and protect the worthless prince when the Vermillion Throne was overrun. Fortunately, reinforcements have finally arrived - but Colonel Janus and his boatload of green recruits might bring more trouble than relief.
Winter was just a nameless soldier in the ranks - and she was just as happy to stay in the background, hiding not only her gender but a past that haunts her nightmares. Tormented by a cruel sergeant and his cronies, she learned long ago to keep her mouth shut and her head down... so it didn't help when she found herself unexpectedly promoted to fill a void when the Colonial outpost was flooded with new soldiers from the homeland. Despite her reluctance, she has no choice but to step up to her new responsibilities if she means to keep herself and her new charges in one piece against the Redeemers.
With the eccentric, inscrutable Janus at their head, the once-undisciplined Old Colonials and the untested new recruits find themselves on the march to reclaim the Vermilion Throne... but the colonel has a hidden agenda in his relentless, borderline reckless plan to reach the Khandarai capital - a plan that draws Marcus and Winter and the whole Vordanai army into heretical powers straight out of legend, powers that could tip the balance in not only the war for Khandar, but the entire world.

REVIEW: This was an impulse purchase during a recent bookstore run, based mostly on a favorable impression of the author at a con I attended some months ago. Though billed as a flintlock fantasy, there's little magic in the story (save the prologue) for quite some time. It's more about the characters and the military campaign as seen by different viewpoints, from rank soldier to captain to rebel. Battle tactics become more personal when seen from the ground, so to speak, where unpredictable enemies and flaws within one's comrades (or oneself) can affect the outcome. Wexler's research into historical warfare shows in the details lavished on these scenes, from the effectiveness of battle formations to the sounds of artillery striking stone walls - or flesh. While this was well written enough to hold my interest, I grew a little itchy for the promised fantasy portion of the tale to kick in. It finally makes an appearance round about the halfway point; from there, it builds as a background glow until it finally dominates the climax of the tale. This world's magic is no simple or lightweight thing; it's a deep, mysterious force, dangerous enough to the public (and the caster) that one can easily see why some churches of the world branded it demon-worship. The characters were decently drawn, though I admit the secondary ones sometimes faded into a swirling sea of names. As for the world, I found it reasonably intriguing, though the idea of rustic religious fanatics of a desert region rising up under an extremist banner against the pale-skinned outsiders nudged a little close to a Line, given world events. Overall, though, I enjoyed it enough to consider reading Book 2 - enough of a success that, despite some prolonged battle sequences and a touch more testosterone than I usually care to wade through, it earns a solid Good rating.

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