BOOK REVIEW: The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Vordanai Colonial regiment believes their miserable time in Khandar to be coming to a close – that is until a clever new Colonel arrives with a batch of reinforcements. With a force only 4,000 men strong, the Colonel intends to reclaim the city of Ashe-Katarion from a numerically superior force of rebels, raiders, and religious fanatics.
PROS: Excellent action scenes that display a wealth of military knowledge; unexpectedly strong female presence; clever world building; good characters.
CONS: If martial fiction isn’t your cup of tea you might not want to crash this party.
BOTTOM LINE: Wexler’s debut will appeal to fans of fantasy and fans of military fiction. I cannot wait for the next book of The Shadow Campaigns.
No Obi Wan Kenobi, this is the flintlock fantasy I’m looking for. The Thousand Names definitely falls under the category of war fiction that just so happens to take place in a fantasy world. Let’s just get this out of the way though – Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names shall from now on be considered the standard set for all new flintlock fantasy to strive for.
The Vordanai Colonials have been chased from the city of Ashe-Katarion, ousted by the Redeemer rebellion and harried all the way back to the coastal Fort Valor. Since the uprising the Colonials have enjoyed lax outpost duty, awaiting ships from Vordanai that will surely take them home. When the ships arrive however, they come bearing reinforcements and resupply – and Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich. The Colonel is determined to retake Ashe-Katarion, but beneath the surface seems to reside another agenda entirely. With only 4,000 men (half of which are fresh from the recruitment office) the Colonel marches inland.
On this merry little expedition we follow Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass. The death of the previous Colonel has thrust d’Ivoire into a role of leadership he had not accounted for. He has done the best he could to keep the regiment together but the arrival of Colonel Vhalnich might very well spell doom for them all. Winter has disguised herself as a man in order to flee her past. Thus far she has survived by sticking to the peripheries and staying relatively unnoticed. The arrival of Colonel Vhalnich results in a promotion for Winter, propelling her into the spotlight she has tried so desperately to avoid. There’s nothing exceptional about either character, but they are well written and one can look past the archetypes to the character underneath.
Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich might just be the star of the show, though he is only ever viewed through the perspective of others. The man is a bit of an enigma. He is intelligent and affable, though he can also be distracted and eccentric. Most importantly, Colonel Janus is clever and as any enlisted man (or woman disguised as a man) will tell you, this is the most dangerous sort of officer of all. Janus is an inspired strategist, though he is far from infallible – often relying on advice from d’Ivoire for seemingly “minor” things that may have escaped his notice.
The supporting cast adds much to the story, and though lacking in depth Wexler makes up for it with diversity. The Colonel’s manservant Augustin is quite funny in his dry disapproval. The overly enthusiastic Corporal Bobby adds levity to grim situations. The clerk/spy Jen Alhundt might be less or more than she appears. Sergeant Davis is a bully and Lieutenant Farus absolves Captain d’Ivoire of much of his responsibility in running the regiment. There is more of a female presence than I had otherwise expected, especially given the martial nature of the novel. A lot of the time these kind of novels can resemble a sausage fest, but not only does The Thousand Names host a number of female characters, they are also entirely able to hold their own. Amidst a regiment of men, Winter stands out as a compassionate leader as well as a bold and quick thinker. Wexler should be commended for not taking the easy way out.
“Think you can hit that lieutenant?” Winter said.
The boy frowned. “That seems a little unsporting, sir.” “Sporting is for handball. Drop him.”
Another major triumph of Wexler’s is his ability to write convincingly from the military perspective. This is an author that really seems to have a grasp on strategy, tactics, and the psychology of battle. The Vordanai Colonials, despite their size, have superior training, armament, and leadership. Wexler makes each victory against seemingly insurmountable odds to be believable through his knowledge of the subject matter. The Thousand Names is filled with house-to-house skirmishes, forming squares against cavalry sorties, bayonet charges, artillery duels, sieges, and more besides. Quite honestly it is a book that I would love recreate with some friends and a bunch of table top miniatures. I might have to paint and assemble a mini Vordanai Colonials regiment of my own. The writing suggests Wexler knows the appropriate uses of infantry, cavalry, and artillery as they are applied to dynamic combat scenarios. It results in the sort of writing that I have come to expect of military veterans.
The plot moves along smoothly as the Colonials march across Khandar, clashing with rebel forces and adjusting to ever-changing circumstances. The action doesn’t kick in until a hundred or so pages in but once it does it impacts with the effect of a musket ball aimed at unprotected flesh. Politics are at play, though much removed from the current situation and there are plenty of suggestions for what is to come. Magic is introduced early on but doesn’t reappear until much later in the novel. Despite talk of wizards and sorcerers, one could replace all the fantasy names with real life estimations and The Thousand Names could be mistaken for a fast paced historical fiction novel. When the magic does come back into play it changes the game, expanding possible avenues for future novels of The Shadow Campaigns in a satisfying and unpredictable way.
I would wholeheartedly recommend The Thousand Names, not only to fans of fantasy but also to fans of military fiction of all types. Fans of Steven Erikson, David Drake, Glen Cook, Naomi Novik, Tom Kratman, Jack Campbell, David Weber, and John Ringo take note – there’s a new military fiction cowboy in town and his name is Django.
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