Baron of Books Review of
The Thousand Names
by Django Wexler
Have you ever heard of a genre known as Flintlock Fantasy? No? Good, me either.
That is, until I read a book called The Thousand Names (by Django Wexler). Which introduced me to an insane blend of . . . wait for it . . .flintlock muskets and . . .magic. See? Flintlock Fantasy.
You should have heard me complaining to The Queen, a month ago. “It’s got no main protagonist”, I said. “It follows this old jaded soldier in a far-off fantasy land, and this awesome young lady pretending to be a guy in his regiment while they fight hordes of religious fanatics with possible magical overtones? Who do I focus on?”
Oookay, so maybe I didn’t say it quite like that. But you get the gist. And remember, dear reader, this is also my intro wherin I try to describe the book in slim detail and then expound upon it later in the review.
Turns out the main protagonist thing I was sort of right on, and happily so. The Thousand Names follows not one, but two characters. (Rereading the synopsis, you’d think I would have understood that better, seeing as it all but hits you on the head with the fact that there are TWO). The first of which is Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, who commands a regiment of the Vordanai Empire in a once-sleepy, now decidedly more bloodthirsty, Vordanai-hating section of the world called Khandar. He’s a gruff, harried middle-aged man thrown into the rigors of commanding a full regiment after his own colonel was killed.
The second character is the aforementioned young woman, Winter Ihernglass (can a mysterious, awesome name get better than Winter? I submit that it cannot) who left behind a painful past in her home country, disguised herself as a boy and joined a Vordanai Colonial Regiment in Khandar. And from the beginning of the book, it’s quite clear, you only get sent to Khandar if you screwed up in some semi-monumental fashion, and they can’t quite fire you . .. so they pack you off to Khandar. For a young girl trying to get away from everything she knew, it fit the bill.
It wasn’t until a little while ago that I realized the sort of . . .I suppose I’d call it brilliance, of eschewing traditional thinking (that of one protagonist) but not exactly jumping the gun and doing a George R.R. Martin impression of “Characters. Characters . .. everywhere.” Two protagonists gives the author a chance to see many of the same situations from two decidedly distinct, but somewhat similar views. The chapters are (with the exception of one or two) all told from the point of view of either Marcus, or Winter (Have I mentioned her name is blasted sexy? And mysterious? Can you tell I really liked her character yet?).
The situation is roughly as follows, when the book starts. The Vordanai Empire sends its collected screwups of the military to an outpost in Khandar, which is ruled by a Prince who’s chummy with the Vordanai Emperor. Turns out the Prince is a bit of a twerp, and his sunbaked nation rises up against him, renouncing their old faith in name of a new one called the Redemption, and trying to murder everything that looks vaguely prince-like, or Colonial Soldier-ish.
The Prince and the single, understrength Vordanai Regiment commanded by our grizzled Marcus d’Ivoire make a beeline for the coast of the nation to await back-up. Which comes in the form of a truly suspicious new colonel by the name of Janus bet Vhalnich (I’ll send a e-cookie to anyone who can honestly tell me how to pronounce these last names) who’s entirely too keen on coming to a sunny hellhole where the locals are more interested in killing (and possibly eating) the foreigners at the moment than making nice.
From there it’s a battle as Marcus becomes adjutant to said Colonel Vhalnich who. . . is quite intent in winning a war against a nation with a single regiment of 4,000. Oh . .. and poor Winter, trying her hardest to stay inconspicuous . . .well, turns out she’s quite intelligent, with a solid sense of loyalty to boot. Both of which aren’t exactly good for staying inconspicuous in a military unit trying the impossible.
And that’s all in the first few chapters. Setting the stage for frenetic combat (where . .. yes, muskets feature heavily, though I imagine you guessed that). And some truly interesting character growth.
Obviously I’m a huge fan of the young Winter. Her entire character is shrouded in an aura of mystery, haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl she once knew, thrust into a war everyone thinks is unwinnable. She shines brightly as a level, thoughtful head in her regiment that’s made up largely of fresh green troops, and old screwups. Knowledgeable of the land, and the inhabitants therein, she is a surprising and massive boon to the upper officers as she rises in the ranks.
But while Winter is easily an amazing character, Marcus holds his own quite readily. There’s something . .. earnest about the both of them. But where Winter has the added factor of trying to conceal her gender, Marcus has to deal with his new boss, Janus. Who’s more than a handful. At times it seems the man is trying to get them all killed, at other times he displays a genius far greater than a colonel sent to a back-water outpost frankly has any right to. And the entirety of the time, he’s constantly giving Marcus an ulcer as the grizzled veteran tries to keep his men alive while following orders.
So . . . can you tell I liked this book? Yes? Good. Because you’re right, I liked this book immensely. If I were to have any complaints about it .. . well, the names got me like no other. Marcus. Great name. Janus? Equally great name. Winter? Epic name. I just couldn’t pronounce the last names (or the names of most of the Khandari characters) worth a bean.
But on the other hand, it lent itself to a beautifully crafted world which seems normal on the surface, and slowly reveals its magic as you learn more about it.
Give it a try, dear readers. I dare say you’ll enjoy it.
♦ Print copy provided for review for my honest opinion.
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