Flintlock Fantasy is one of those new terms genre fans are hearing a lot of these days. It’s one sub-genre this reader happens to like very much. Django Wexler’s debut, The Thousand Names: Book One of The Shadow Campaigns, is a fine addition to the growing number of Fantasy novels mixing magic and Napoleonic-era technology. If Flintlock Fantasy is your thing, you won’t want to miss it. If not… well… guns and magic, people. Guns and magic. There is a whole lot of awesome waiting for readers in The Thousand Names.
The desert city of Ashe-Katarion is in upheaval after the Redeemer-led rebels have deposed their prince. This spells trouble for Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and his small, colonialist Vordanai army, who have been supporting said prince with modern military tactics and weaponry. Heavily outnumbered—cut off from their empire, with their backs to the sea—the Vordanai await their fleet to rescue them from certain annihilation. When their fleet arrives, however, with raw recruits, and a new colonel to take command, the old Vordanai veterans discover that they will have to retake Ashe-Katarion by force. Enter in to Wexler’s exciting, brutal world of The Thousand Names.
The Thousand Names is definitely fantasy, but the magic remains in the background for most of the novel. Like Joe Abercrombie, or George R.R. Martin, Wexler focuses more on the ordinary than the fantastical. This is to his credit, because The Thousand Names allows readers to really feel as if they are marching alongside the old, curmudgeonly vets (or terrified new recruits) as they trudge through desert roads to battle. The gritty soldiering passages are where this book shines.
Readers have two main POV characters to follow throughout the book. Senior Captain Marcus d’Ivoire becomes the bird’s eye view of the battles, while newly promoted Sergeant Winter Ihernglass (a woman serving disguised as a man) is the “boots-on-the-ground” perspective. Both characters are straightforward and honorable (a nice change from current in-vogue, gray character personalities), but their strength and loyalties are tested to the limits during the course of the story. Despite their proximity to the action, neither Marcus, nor Winter is the main character of The Thousand Names. This role is reserved for the non-POV character, Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich. The colonel is one of those morally ambiguous types, and the reader is never quite sure where his loyalties and motive lie. It is Janus’s choices which drive The Thousand Names, and he will very easily become readers’ favorite.
As stated earlier, the battles in this book are the highlights. Wexler has based his world on a late 18th century Earth, where the musket and cannon rule the battlefield. Wexler walks that line between description and action perfectly, never over-burdening readers with information irrelevant to the story. Scenes like this are sure to inspire the terror of Napoleonic war:
“Back down the hill,” Winter said, “but stop at the stream. Understand that? Get everyone you can to stop at the stream!”
“We have to get back to the column,” Bobby gabbled. “We’ll be killed! Oh, saints and martyrs!”
“We’ll never make it,” Winter said. “Too far. If we run, they’ll cut us down. We have to stand them off.”
Squares, bayonet charges, canister fire, and desperate men. The Thousand Names is Fantasy at its finest.
Because it is mostly in the background, the weakest part of this book is its magic. This may prove problematic for hardcore, Epic Fantasy readers (especially with Brian McClellan’s Flintlock Fantasy debut, The Promise of Blood, competing for attention). Wexler never explains his magic system in any detail, and so the reader is left not knowing the stakes when magic takes center stage. That said, there are spices of magic sprinkled throughout The Thousand Names often enough that readers are never in doubt of its existence in the world. Whether or not Wexler explains his magic in greater detail in subsequent volumes, The Thousand Names is a heck of a Fantasy debut.
I liked The Thousand Names a lot, and hate the powers that be for making me wait another year for Book Two. I listened to the audio book, narrated excellently by Richard Poe, and consider it one of the best Fantasy books of the year. If you are a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, Joe Abercrombie, Naomi Novik, or Flintlock Fantasy in general, make sure you pick up Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names. You’ll be happy you listened to me.
Review by Jordan Ricks
Jordan started reading genre fiction when Goosebumps hit the shelves during the third grade. He picked up a copy of Ender’s Game a few years later, and then read all six original Dune novels in quick succession. He’s been devouring all things speculative ever since. Thanks to all the reading, the writer bug caught him at a young age–now he just has to learn how to finish writing what he starts. Jordan attended Orson Scott Card’s Writing Class in 2007, and David Farland’s Death Camp in 2009. One day he will finish his college education, and then go on to rule the world. For the time being, he slaves away in a frame shop in Utah, gold-leafing picture frames for artists and designers around the world. When not working for the man, Jordan spends his time at home with his wife and two kids. He usually has an audiobook playing in his ear.