The Thousand Names is exactly what I came to expect of Flintlock Fantasy!
Colonials, a dusty setting, military tactics and old, dangerous magic. A fantastic, exotic and intriguing combo!
The story takes place in Khandar, an arid colony where the dregs (with a few exceptions) of the Vordanai army are sent (or rather “exiled”) to keep the peace and support the local prince. A precarious alliance of zealous priests (the Redeemers) and desert warriors (the Voltarai), among others, stage a revolution that chase away the Colonials to the outer reaches of Khandar. The arrival of the mysterious and rather charismatic Count Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich to Khandar means either a long awaited trip back home for the beaten-up Colonial regiment or a full-scale war against the Khandarai coalition.
The Thousand Names is mainly told from two POVs: Senior Captain Marcus D’Ivoire, a Vordanai officer who, for mysterious reasons, actually chose to serve in Khandar and Winter Ihernglass, a female ranker (disguised as a man) who does her best to pass unnoticed. Some minor POVs were also featured in the epilogue/prologue and interludes to provide a look at the on-going events from “the other side”.
The book started with a pretty intriguing, occult and creepy feel, before completely changing direction and tone and focusing on the military life and tactics. It was compelling to watch both sides of an army: the mundane actions and life of the common ranker and the sensitive decision makings of high-ranked officers. It was also funny to see that a huge part of the officers’ “work” is done by hard-working subordinates who are always alert and seemingly need no sleep or rest! XD
Square formation. From Napoleon Total War™ game.
The military drills, formations and tactics were surprisingly fascinating to read! Partly because they were obviously meticulously researched and documented by Wexler. And mostly because, they were infused with enough tension and anticipation that you feel compelled to read until you reach the end of the drill or the fight! Wexler has definitely a talent for writing vivid battles, mixing artillery, line or square formations and heavy cavalry, and his story almost reads like a novelized rendition of some historical battle at times.
But despite this point being one of the book’s strongest assets, I believe it also might dampen a few readers’ interest: this first book is indeed pretty heavy on military jargon and battle sequences. Besides, a lot of fighting happened early on, before you had time to actually know and care about the characters’ fates.
“But, you keep talking about the military aspect of the book, where is the “Fantasy” side in all of this?” one might ask! Well, to be honest, magic was less present than bayonets and gunpowder in TTN but was definitely no less important! The series is after all named “The Shadow Campaigns” and you would guess, pretty early on, that the real, ultimate war would be one initiated off stage, with various shadowy players already starting to place their pawns and weave their schemes.
Character-wise, I think there is still a lot of room for growth and for secondary characters to gain more shape and impact. The most interesting protagonist must be Janus, despite him not having his own chapters (which made him all the more intriguing and added a lot of mystery and unpredictability to the plot). I’m not sure how to feel about the other main characters though. While Winter had a steady and pretty inspiring development, most of the others alternated brilliant moves and poor decision after poor decision. The sheer cowardice, stupidity or obliviousness some of them regularly manifested made it pretty hard to care about them.
The Thousand Names is definitely a brilliant debut, peeps! Despite the few issues I had with the characterization and the pacing around the halfway mark, the book is very well written and clearly showed a huge amount of research and dedication! This is definitely not a story about good vs. evil but is rather about all the shades in-between. You’ll keep wondering if there is even a good or a wrong side and you’ll keep questioning the characters’ motives and agendas! Considering how Wexler wrapped things up at the end, this book could almost be a standalone, if not for the mystical arc to be developed and explored. I can’t wait to discover more about the Thousand Names, the old magic and the different half-hidden players in the sequels!
Review by Haïfa.
Read in October, 2017.