I am not sure I have ever seen a series do a complete one eighty in book two like this one has; I am certain that if I have it didn’t pull it off so successfully. There is no middle book issue in this series; The Shadow Throne improves on the very strong start provided by The Thousand Names.
Wexler introduced us to this world with a book that was at its heart one strong military campaign. The Thousand Names was pure military fantasy with a focus honed in on a few people within the marching army. The fantasy aspects didn’t show until late with the early portions dealing with tactical maneuvering and some pretty exciting battles. But within this framework were some real gems when it came to characters; Winter and Janus specifically held my interest due to very different positions within the march.
Readjust the brain, keep a few characters but change direction. The Shadow Throne is a completely different game. Military mastermind Janus is back home and must match his wits with a man known as The Last Duke; Orlanko being the J Edgar Hoover of this land with a bit more power. This time the fight is a political one. The king is near death, his daughter is seen as weak, and dissent within the kingdom is on the rise. Janus proves his talents extend beyond the battlefield as he moves his pieces around the board, including Marcus and Winter from the first book. The goal is simply to secure Princess Raesinia on the throne under her own control; without Orlanko’s heavy influence.
But things would be so much simpler if everyone knew who was on their side wouldn’t they? Raesinia is running a few plots of her own and carefully orchestrates the spark that will either save her abandon the kingdom to Orlanko’s evil clutches. Hiding a secret that is both an amazing blessing and terrible curse each step she takes has to be perfect lest everything fall apart around her.
What makes this a perfect middle book? The fact that it is on its own a complete story. We get the set up to Raesinia’s plight, a full book of political maneuvering, a quick military diversion to keep true to the series roots and most important of all, a conclusion. Of course there is a long game running through the background as well; the thousand names and its implications are carried over from the first book and several characters obviously have potential we still have not seen. The series isn’t relying on cliffhangers and loose threads to keep our interest but still has a definite direction it is moving too.
On top of that it just does what it is supposed to. I bought into the political game being played; the gains were believable and the setbacks true to expectations. Janus is borderline Gary Stu but is aware that it is part of his reputation and does what he can to cultivate it. Orlanko is so strong in some areas but has major blindness’s that make him a very compelling villain. Raesinia was so easy to root for that it was easy to forget she had a few questionable actions as well; I can hope this series is deep enough for there to be repercussions for these types of actions later.
Two books in and this series has me hooked. A quick military romp to get things started followed by a surprisingly deep for its page count sequel, plenty of action and characters I love. A long game that has huge implications for the future but has to be kept in the background as other flare-ups keep everyone’s attention. Plus we got to watch the organic start of an all-female regiment in a traditionally male dominated army. Have you ever read about that in a fantasy book?
Copy for review provided by publisher.