The prologue sets the stage with the new ruling council of the land known as Khandar meeting in the city of Ashe-Katarion. The Redeemers, a fanatic religious order that fancies burning people at the stake as well as, according to the Vordanai, feasting on the flesh of their enemies, occupy much of the city alongside the suddenly-religious Auxiliaries who swapped sides when their prince was overthrown. The prologue, as well as the occasional interludes, give us the view from the opposing side of our main characters – a feature that adds much to the story, however small the interludes may be.
The prince has the aid of his cousin, the King of the Vordanai, in an attempt to take back his throne. This is where Marcus and Winter come in. They’re soldiers in the colonial garrison on Khandar, Marcus being a Captain and Winter, dressed as a man, begins as a ranker. The problem is that the Vordanai Colonials only have a few thousand soldiers and are therefore significantly outnumbered, with most of the reinforcements being green and straight from the recruitment office. Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich is the new commander of the Colonials and, despite looking like the bookworm he is, he’s an enigmatic and often eccentric man of astounding military genius. Think Napoleon when you’re trying to imagine Janus’s abilities – numbers don’t apply when a brilliant mind uses strategy. For the Colonials, this campaign is folly.
Marcus is a fairly typical by-the-books soldier, adamant about following the orders of his superiors, even if they seem to lead to certain death. Having had several previous colonels leading the Colonials in ignorance, Janus is a gamechanger – he actually asks his subordinates, primarily Marcus, for advice. This leaves Marcus continually attempting to adapt to having a larger role and being able to speak plainly to a superior. Throughout the story he has to face problems from both inside and outside the army and from both friend and foe, from the high-ranking position of observation in the rear. Winter Ihernglass is a fantastic, deep character, and one of the most impressively written strong female characters I’ve read in some time. Much of the real flintlock action is seen from her perspective. Winter transforms from a somewhat timid ranker trying to avoid drawing attention when she’s thrust into a leadership position and becomes responsible for hundreds of lives.
The Thousand Names includes thrillingly depicted action sequences that made me feel like I was in the front line of company of infantry with guns blazing on all sides and cannons thundering in the distance. From guerrilla warfare to open-field line battles, I was never given a reason to stop reading. Some scenes like the following one give the book a certain charm that helped the book stayed glued to my hands.
“Think you can hit that lieutenant?” Winter said.The boy frowned. “That seems a little unsporting, sir.”“Sporting is for handball. Drop him.”
If I had to pick something that needed work, it would be some of the secondary characters. There were some fairly weak ones, ones you’re meant to hate, but there were also ones like Bobby, a corporal under Winter, who develops as well as a main character would. This goes both ways though, as characters you’re meant to hate add to the development of the main characters they affect.
Wexler clearly did his research on the musket era – from unit formations down to how the bayonet locks onto the muzzle of the musket – and it makes The Thousand Names just that much better. The book is finished with a strong ending that many epic fantasy beginnings seem to lack – it wasn’t all setup and the current conflict was concluded, yet it revealed a much larger one. Strong pacing and thrilling action highlight this series debut that you can’t miss. Django has said that we can expect a deployment in The Shadow Campaigns roughly once a year, and next summer cannot come soon enough.
You can read an the first chapter and a half of The Thousand Names over at Tor.
Find Django on his website and Twitter and check out his release day post to find a plethora of goodies about Django and The Shadow Campaigns.