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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler w/ bonus review of The Penitent Damned (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Enter to win 2 signed ARCs of the The Thousand Names (Worldwide)
Read the prologue and chapter one HERE 

Author Information: Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not planning Shadow Campaigns, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

OFFICIAL BLURB: 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.

FORMAT/INFO: The Thousand Names is 528 pages long divided over twenty-seven numbered chapters with a prologue and epilogue that are divided into three parts. Narration is in third-person by Marcus d’Ivoire, Winter Ihernglass, and Jaffa-Dan-IlnThe Thousand Names is the opening volume of The Shadow Campaigns.

July 2, 2013 marked the e-book and paperback publication of The Thousand Names by Roc books (Penguin) in the US and by Del Rey UK across the Atlantic.

ANALYSIS: I had first heard of Django Wexler’s debut The Thousand Names a few months earlier. The blurb really sounded interesting and the book was an enticing one. Liviu was really excited about it and even spoke about it in his post about highly expected series debuts. Liviu was very much impressed by it, going as far as to call it “a very impressive and very polished series debut that covers everything one wants in an epic fantasy and a top 25 of mine for sure with the sequel being a huge ASAP book” and you can read his entire review over at Goodreads. After reading all of Liviu’s thoughts, I got hold of an ARC and dove in to an epic fantasy debut with very high expectations.

The story of The Thousand Names begins with the prologue, that ironically focuses on the “Other side”. We are introduced to Jaffa-Dan-Iln the grand justice of the ruling city of Ashe-Katarion in the land of Khandar. Who is trying to get a coalition of The Redeemers, a fanatic religious order that has risen to rule Khandar. The Redeemer group are led by Yatchick-Dan-Rahksa and are at odds with General Khotba who leads the Khandar auxiliary forces. Lastly there’s Maalik-Dan-Belial also known as the Steel Ghost, leader of the Desoltai tribe raiders. They are trying to figure out the best way to rule however their alliance is fraught with jealousy and squabbling. Their opponents are the Vordanai empire colonial garrisons stationed at a desert outpost.

Among them are our two main POV protagonists, first is Winter Ihernglass, a woman masquerading as a man and who has escaped a turbulent past to become a successful soldier but disliked by her compatriots for her aloof behavior (as she tries to minimize chances of her gender being recognized). Then there’s captain Marcus D’Ivoire, a simple man with honest ideals and more than a capable mind who will be forced to deal with a colonel that will test his patience, his mental acuity and his loyalty towards his friends, and country. Lastly there’s Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich who doesn't get a POV but serves a fascinating character in himself with shades of a military version of Sherlock Holmes or agent A.X.L. Pendergast for those acquainted with Preston & Child’s most famous creation.

Firstly beginning with why this book created such a big impression on me, even though it’s a debut, the main plot is very well structured and the readers are gradually introduced to the world as well as the characters. The story is a slow one to start as the reader is immersed into the world of the Vordanai soldiers especially with Winter and Marcus. Both are very different individuals but as POV characters go they are gems to read about. Both these characters are evolving throughout the entire story and the readers get a perfect view into this metamorphosis. Here’s what I liked about both characters, even though they adhere to fantasy soldier tropes, the author gives them very discerning personas. Thereby making them very intriguing POV characters and fun ones to root for as well. With Winter we get get to see her evolution from a common foot soldier into a higher rank and along the way we get to witness her bravery, compassion and decency. I admit as female POV characters go, she was one of the best ones I've read about and she was the emotional focus of this story and my favorite character as well.

Marcus is more of a simple soldier who is beholden to his values but as the campaign progresses, he's rather forced to take sides and still uphold his values. His struggles are rather competently portrayed and you can't but cheer both Winter and Marcus as both strive to do what's right for their regiment and their cause. Besides these POV characters, there is a considerably wide character cast that is featured in this story chief among this is Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich who is vastly Holmes-like in matters of strategy and behavior. A formidable character and one who is seen only through Marcus’ POV, however I hope he gets a POV turn in the future books. Then there’s the crew serving with Winter who are an equally interesting and fun group. All in all there are quite a few characters whom the readers will be delighted to know and can hope for a POV cast status in the future books.

Going on to the world setting, this is another solid point in favor of the author. The world of Khandar is a desert-oriented setting (picture any middle -Eastern country in the 17th or 18th century) and the author brilliantly portrays a frayed Vordanai force that is forced to stay in an alien country as per the bidding of their emperor. The countryside is very colorfully described as the Vordanai army begins its march towards Ashe-Katarion as the author has built this story around the army’s march. Another fascinating aspect is the author's description of the army life, marching details as well as the battle sequences (featuring guns). Django Wexler seems to have truly done some extensive research as his action sequences as well as story minutiae help in making this story a rich one and very easy to visualize.

The story also has a good pace throughout but takes nearly 100 pages in the start to get truly going. The story also focuses quite a bit on the turmoil that goes on in a country that has recently undergone a revolution. This aspect of the story is especially reminiscent of the current situation in many of the Middle Eastern countries. I don’t think the author intentionally went for that angle but it works a bit to his advantage here. Lastly there’s the magic system which is only just unveiled in this book. As the book moves to its climax, we get to see what lies ahead and it will be fascinating to see how the author explores it in the sequels (The Penitent Damned also shines a further light on the Vordanai magic system and will come more into focus as the series progresses).

Some points about this book might not endear itself to everyone. The first one (like I mentioned previously) is that the book’s plot takes a while to get going. The first few chapters serve as introduction to the characters as well the world, so for those readers expecting action and intrigue from page one will not find it to their liking. I would hope that they persevere as the remaining part of the story delivers on an epic scale. The book also plays around with tropes about racism, imperialism and colonial attitudes. In bits and pieces here and there, the author showcases how life is for both the invaders and residents but for the sake of the story doesn't go too deep into it. Another point I must bring up is that the conflict portrayed is predictable as to what race is appearing to be the technologically superior one but since this is book one of five, judgment should be reserved until the series is finished. Also in regards to certain character and situational cliches, there is a fair amount of predictable outcomes but to be fair there are also some twists that are truly out of the left field.

CONCLUSION: The Thousand Names is a spectacular epic fantasy debut that heralds Django Wexler as a talented author and The Shadow Campaigns series as a future flintlock fantasy classic. I was thoroughly impressed with this debut and kudos to Penguin for unearthing another gem of a debut after last year’s Daughter Of The Sword. The Thousand Names is a must read because of its plus points and in spite of its few flaws, be sure to get a copy and keep an eye for Django Wexler in the future.

Read The Penitent Damned for FREE on io9

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Penitent Damned is a prequel short story that was featured for free on io9 and after reading it, I would very much recommend it to readers as well with the caveat that they might enjoy it better after reading The Thousand Names.

The story is set in Vordan and basically is a heist story. The story focuses on Duke Mallus Kengire Orlanko, Royal Minister of Information and leader of the Vordanai secret police, the all-seeing, all-knowing Concordat, Andreas the Concordat assassin and Alex the thief. Alex and her mentor master Metzing have been given a job that is almost impossible to turn down. Andreas warns the duke of an impending heist and so the trap is set. It remains to be seen which side will triumph as both sides have secrets of their own and surprises to spring as well.

I read this short after I had read the book and I’m glad for that as certain things the book illuminates become very easy to understand after reading the climax of The Thousand Names. While I believe most readers will enjoy this story anyway, I think those who read The Thousand Names will be able to discern a few more facts from it and especially the last line gives out a very crucial part that possibly reveals an important clue in regards to an important plot point. Plus the story also shines a sharp light on the Vordanai magic system and that is revealed quite late in the main book. The story does have a nice twist in its climax and as far as short stories go, is quite an excellent one.

Overall The Penitent Damned is a story that I would heartily recommend to all fantasy lovers. If you haven’t discovered Django Wexler yet, then this is an excellent, free way to get started. Though my recommendation would be to read it after the author’s long form debut as that way you will enjoy it even more!


az060693 said...

I agree with persevering through the beginning, this book is a long one, and takes a long time to pick up. You won't even see any magic or anything of the sort for quite a while.

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Ok, slower start. I'll have to remember that. But it does sound very good. Thank you.

Mihai A. said...

I still need to start reading this novel. It looks very interesting. Of course, I still need to catch up with Promise of Blood too, but with the summer vacation on the horizon I have high hopes to do so.
Excellent review, as always! :)

The Reader said...

Thanks Mihai, we'll definitely look forward to your thoughts on this one :)



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