The Thousand Names
The Shadow Campaigns, #1
From Goodreads: “Enter an epic fantasy world that echoes with the thunder of muskets and the clang of steel—but where the real battle is against a subtle and sinister magic….
Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.
To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.
The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.”
I dig it. I really do. This was my first introduction to flintlock fantasy, and I loved it.
I loved Winter Ihernglass. She’s a strong female protagonist without being a “strong female protagonist.” Call me revolutionary, but I love it when authors write women as people. She works hard to pass for a man. She is strategically competent. She can fire a musket and wield a sword, but she never strays into the frigid automaton territory that often consumes “strong” heroines. She is also a caregiver, insecure, devoted to her friends, paranoid about blowing her cover, and trying desperately to cope with the crap life keeps throwing at her. Most importantly, she is defined by her circumstances and her actions, not by her relationships with men.
Colonel Janus Vhalnich was pretty awesome, as well. I have a thing for emotionally detached, scholarly, brilliant characters, and Janus struck me as particularly Holmesian. I’d say he almost seemed to be borderline Asperger’s – hyperattentive, obsessive, with some trouble expressing his interests in ways other people can understand. I was wary of the character at first, because he came off as the setup for some deus ex machina, but my fears were unfounded, and he grew into something very, very interesting. I’d like to see passages from his perspective in future books.
The system of magic was extremely cool, and treated very originally. Actually explaining why would stray into spoiler territory, though.
Lastly, I loved that, though this is the first in a series, it ended with pretty thorough closure. All the major plot points were resolved, and though the end set up the basic conflict for the next books, there’s no teeth-grindingly heinous cliffhanger. You could read it as a stand-alone.
The naming conventions. They felt very arbitrary to me, as though Wexler didn’t bother to assign a set of phoneme frequencies or an orthography to each culture. The Vordanai have given names like Winter, Marcus, Jen, Janus, and Fitz, while the surnames that accompany them are Ihernglass, d’Ivoire, Alhundt, bet Vhalnich, and Warus. The Khandarai are Feor and Khtoba and Onvidaer and Jaffa. Neither set of names sounds as though it can be attributed to a single language or language family, and there was no cultural information given that could explain the disconnect.
Recommended for those who dig A Song of Ice and Fire and other such military-political fantasy.
*Note: I received a free proof copy of this book and was encouraged but not required to review. Said copy, being a proof, had not undergone final edits, and was a bit typo-laden. I assume most or all such errors have been rectified in the final publication.