The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

Reading The Thousand Names made me finally realise that I really love flintlock.

This is the first book of the Shadow Campaigns series, set in an alternate world which features both Napoleonic era technology as well as magic. The Vordanai Empire had long since colonised the desert nation of Khandar; however, recently a group of religious extremists managed to kick out the Vordanai and their puppet government. Now the empire has sent a new colonel to restore order. The Vordanai soldiers already stationed in Khandar expect a token attempt at a fight before they can all go home. What they get is a brilliant, possibly crazy colonel with no interest in running, and who has even more ambitious plans of his own…

The book is primarily told from the perspective of two soldiers in the Vordonai army: Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Sergeant Winter Ihernglass. Both characters are great, though poor Marcus never had a chance against Winter for Fave Of My Heart. Marcus is very honourable and stubbornly loyal; his conflicts with his more pragmatic fellow captains made me grin. Winter ran away from a harsh reform “school” for young women, disguised herself as a man to join the army, accidentally got promoted to sergeant, and to everyone’s surprise (including her own) turned out to be damn good at the job. Sorry, Marcus, no chance. What I also loved is that Winter is not the only woman fighting. Her growing friendship with her troops was sweet, but her interactions with other women especially delighted me.

Much of The Thousand Names is devoted to actual battle, and as I don’t usually read books like this I wasn’t sure how I’d take it. But the fighting is, for lack of a better word, interesting. The variation in landscape, objective, and number ratio between enemy and allied soldiers makes each battle scenario feel fresh. The tactics also feel realistic but exciting, and the fighting itself bloody in a fun way. Marcus and Winter’s very different ranks add a lot to the book: we get to see Marcus and the colonel discuss the broader strategy and then Winter and her soldiers actually carry those orders out.

In this first book, the magic elements are shrouded behind a heavy layer of mystery and mysticism. The official Vordanai religion teaches that magic usage is evil and involves consorting with demons; the Church only stopped sending out inquisitors to torture and kill supposed magic practitioners relatively recently. Most of the characters don’t even believe magic actually exists. I’m intrigued to see the lore developed further, and to find out how true the “demon” accusation is.

In truth, the only issues I had with the book are probably of the it’s-not-you-it’s-me kind. One was that for me, the prologue and interludes, like most prologues and interludes, dragged and didn’t feel really necessary. The other was that it felt weird as hell rooting for the colonisers. It didn’t feel like the deposed puppet parliament particularly deserved the throne back, though to be fair the religious extremist rebels didn’t seem to care much about bettering their people’s lives either. At the end of the day though, this was mainly a book about a military campaign, not a political one.

All in all, I found The Thousand Names to be a very fun read. Definitely not for those who dislike military books, definitely yes for those who are interested in soldiers running around with muskets, canons, and maybe-demons-inside-them. Personally, I’m picking up book 2 immediately.

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