Fantasy Review: ‘The Thousand Names’ by Django Wexler

The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns, #1)“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia”

Well hell, the puppet government you have been supporting has suddenly run into a large invasion of religious fanatics causing its leader and your troops to be chased all the way back to the coast. What is there to do? Obviously the answer is to drink until the ship shows to take you home. Ranker Winter Ihernglass spends as much of her time along as she can, her bully of a commander is bad enough without suspecting that she hid her gender to enlist. And Captain Marcus d’Ivoire quickly finds that his new commanding officer doesn’t plan on relieving his force; rather he designs to march them right back to the heart of the rebellion.

What follows is pure military campaigning goodness. Real military fantasy, of course simplified to a point, complete with some tactical maneuvering of a Napoleonic vibe. Muzzle loaded muskets, calvary complete with swords; even howitzers make their appearance (forcing me to look up the etymology of the word). This quickly paced book runs us through the formations as the tactically brilliant Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich works his overwhelmed force on its way to the goal; nominally in order to restore their puppet prince back on his throne.

“We fired out guns but the British kept a coming, wasn’t as many as there was a while ago.”

Well over the first half of the book deals with Winter and Marcus as they do their best to hold on and keep up with this abrupt change of assignment. Winter was the star of the book. Army life beats what she had back in the empire, and a remote outpost is the perfect place to keep her identity hidden. But an unintentional promotion proves to be the right move; quick thinking while terrified is still quick thinking and proves to be something she is good at.

Marcus is perhaps a more typical fantasy character; stuck right between the people who know what is actually going on and the grunts on the field. Loyal to a fault, he finds himself caught in the whirlwind that is Janus. Always questioning, always proven wrong, one would think he would start to trust the judgment of his commander. Despite being a reluctant leader he does his duty well. In fact it was a nice habit of the book, only a few people were obviously over their head in the army. While the undertrained army figured it out fairly quickly it wasn’t with individual performance but rather from being useful cogs in the machine.

Uh oh, it’s magic!

Lots of guns, very little of the fantastical so far. But this isn’t alternative military history, it is military fantasy and in the third act the magic comes to life. Discussing it without spoilers is tough to do, so I will refrain from any specifics. To be honest it was a good thing I was hooked to the book by this part because I was less than enamored by the specific workings of the magical system. What I did like about the magic however was the way the arts were presented between cultures. At first glance it is the providence of the ‘savages’ that the mighty white men look to subdue at best, take for themselves at worse. But gradually we learn more and more about just how hypocritical the Vordanai Empire is when it comes to such things.

Strong first book of the series, I can see why the sequel was so highly anticipated by so many. Better late than never, right? I loved the military aspects, liked the magical system a little less. A bit transparent at times, most of the big reveals were pretty easy to spot. But even as we sorted out which characters were sitting on each side I felt each was a distinct person; no lazy prop pieces in site, always a plus.

4 Stars