I am a woman of many subgenres. Ok, two at least. I’ve just introduced you to Noblebright, but thanks to the liberal use of firearms and cannon in my stories, I also can consider them Flintlock Fantasy. Needless to say, I’m thrilled that its’a thing, though it’s only very recently that I’ve actually read another book in the genre. Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names – the first in the four-book Shadow Campaigns series- came highly recommended, and with good reason.
Marking time in a colonial outpost, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire hopes the coming of a new colonel means the end of an unsuccessful campaign against a fierce and frightening local rebellion. One of his soldiers, Winter Ihernglass, is a woman masquerading as a man. She’s hoping to serve out her time in obscurity, but fate has other plans. The Thousand Names follows these two characters through a dangerous, thrilling campaign, instigated by the eccentric, enigmatic Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who is pursuing a secret agenda that will put all of them at greater risk than they can imagine.
I’ll confess that this book was a bit of a slow burn for me. I wasn’t thrilled with the prologue, but the first chapter definitely drew me in. Yanked into Marcus’ and Winter’s world, the dialogue crackles and the setting springs to life. Even though the action doesn’t start immediately, the main characters are compelling, and the supporting cast is diverse and colorful. With its exotic desert setting, the story has a kind of British-in-the-Middle-East feel.
Unlike most fantasy, the military setting is early modern, probably late 18th century. In other words, uniforms, muskets, bayonets, artillery, ranks and infantry maneuvers galore. The story itself is almost overwhelmingly military. So if you’re not fascinated by the afore-mentioned list, aren’t thrilled by lovingly rendered details about all aspects of a military campaign, this might not be your thing.
It is however, clearly my thing, and not just because of the military minutiae. It would be very easy for The Thousand Names to be a boys-only adventure, but it most assuredly is not. Winter is a wonderful character, but she’s far from the only female, and all are nicely developed and given plenty to do. I also adored the friendships between Marcus and his fellow officers, even those that caused him a lot of trouble. The complicated and evolving relationship between him and Janus is also highly enjoyable. Same goes for Winter and her soldiers. Even with the strictly military backdrop, there is no shortage of warmth and humanity here. It’s downright noblebright-ish in that sense.
I didn’t devour this book right away, but once I hit the halfway point, I couldn’t stop, and polished the rest of it off in one sitting. The ending was exciting and mostly satisfying, though as is often the case, there was a bit too much magic for my taste. I do realize I’m pretty unusual amongst fantasy readers in preferring minimal sorcery with my swords (and muskets and cannon), so I won’t complain too long.
In summary, a highly enjoyable, highly detailed martial fantasy with a nice lead-in to the next book. I’ll be reading it soon!by