The Thousand Names – Django Wexler

About the Book

Enter an epic fantasy world that echoes with the thunder of muskets and the clang of steel—but where the real battle is against a subtle and sinister magic….

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.

528 pages (hardcover)
Published on July 2, 2013
Published by Roc Hardcover
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for my review by the publisher.

You can purchase a copy of this book by clicking on the following links: The Thousand Names: Book One of The Shadow Campaigns, The Thousand Names: Book One of The Shadow Campaigns – Kindle

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People who read epic fantasy tend to go into it with high expectations. Hell, “epic” is in the title of the genre. Readers expect exactly that. The world needs to be sprawling and well fleshed out. There needs to be a cast of characters as long as my arm all with believable personalities and nuances. The large world needs to be filled with complex cultures and numerous languages. Magic, should it be a part of the series, needs to be just as complex and sprawling as everything else. In a word, everything needs to be, well, epic.

That being said, I admire it when new authors have the vision to picture an epic fantasy and mentally put all the pieces together, but also the artistic and verbal talents to put those images to paper. I get even more impressed when said author’s book is released and it surpasses my expectations. You see, the problem I’ve encountered with epic fantasy is that a lot of people want to write it, and very few can execute a perfect door stopping epic fantasy book on the first try. It takes practice and a special kind of mind. While The Thousand Names isn’t perfect, it’s damn impressive for a debut author whose first work fits nicely in the epic-fantasy sub-genre.

The Thousand Names in some ways reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. The Thousand Names, like Malazan, takes place on the outskirts of an empire (kingdom) on a dry, hot and rather exhausting area with a colorful and complex local culture. Most of the tried soldiers are a rather tight knit group with banter also reminding me of some of the soldierly banter in Malazan books. While their struggles to acclimate to the area and culture are alluded to, they aren’t focused on. This allows Wexler to get right to the job of introducing the characters, and slowly building the world and their situation(s) around them as the book gains complexities.

It’s hard for me to compare any books to Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, because in my mind that series is the series that tops all books ever written in the history of the world (okay, maybe that’s a little exaggeration, but you get the point). However, there were points where I couldn’t help myself. While Erikson is a master of world building, Wexler gives it his all and it pays off. Though The Thousand Names lacks the intricacies of Malazan, the effort is there. There are some similarities that I’ve already addressed, but also some that were rather subtle as I read. For example, there’s a feeling throughout the book that there’s more to pretty much everything than meets the eye, an ominous feeling that Erikson has perfected in his books but Wexler comes pretty close. Wexler also infuses his dusty, dry island with a sense of sprawling history and religious importance, both of which are qualities that I loved about the Malazan series, but find lacking in much of epic fantasy today.

I’m not a reviewer who likes to compare books (though you wouldn’t guess it from this review so far) but I thought those points are important to mention. I don’t think Wexler is piggybacking off of Erikson in the least. Instead, I think he’s a bright new talent in epic fantasy who has shown in his first book, The Thousand Names, that he has the ability to bring the epic to fantasy and his world building reflects much of what I look for in epic fantasy and rarely find outside of Steven Erikson books.

As I mentioned above, it’s not perfect, despite all my praise. The Thousand Names takes some time to get going. The first hundred pages or so are basically spent introducing characters who rather suddenly start on a journey and have no clue where they are going or why. The reader acutely will feel the character’s confusion because just as you start getting introduced to people, they start moving and shifting around. Winter, one protagonist, is moved from one group of soldiers to another in the first few chapters and, while this added a new and interesting dynamic to her story, it was hard to remember who were the “new” soldiers and who were the “old” soldiers when they are referred to because everything has shifted so much. While that gets sorted out as the book progresses, it’s hard to keep track of the world building, character introductions and cultural nuances as the army starts moving across a barren landscape for (at the time) no apparent reason.

Another issue that many readers might face is Wexler’s detailed battle sequences. The author goes into quite a bit of detail regarding formations, weapons, who does what and where. Sometimes this extensive detail makes it feel like the action takes a bit too long to get going. If battle details aren’t your bag then you might struggle through those portions of the book. Regardless of how you feel about battle details, you have to step back and admire the research it must have taken to bring such incredible reality to the action sequences the characters find themselves in.

Wexler has a very large cast of characters, but only a few of them are highlighted and there are really only two main perspectives with a few others thrown in here and there. This helps readers get well acquainted with the characters and their various viewpoints on what happens throughout the book without ever taking away from that epic feel that I really enjoyed. One niggling point is that occasionally Wexler switches to the “other side” for a short point of view. Usually in books that sort of thing helps clear up the details of what is happening and adds valuable insight, but it really didn’t in The Thousand Names. In fact, in some instances the other side’s perspectives left me more confused.

The reason for this is that Wexler reveals what is happening as it happens and the very subtle foreshadowing that does happen, happens early on in the book and is easily forgotten. Readers figure out what is going on as the soldiers do. That’s fine, and usually that’s a huge reason why I enjoy a book. It keeps things interesting. The drawback here is that as the details and mysteries unfold they end up being surprisingly complex and it makes the “other side” perspectives, which would usually clear up and add details, muddy the waters instead.

The Thousand Names involves secret cult, religious sects, magic, political schemes, demons and more. While all of this is hinted at as the book goes along, much of the information feels somewhat weighty and confusing as it is revealed to readers. It takes time to absorb and fully understand. Mixed in with all of that is the fact that every character seems to have some incredible secret that is only hinted at, and expanded on throughout the book though (in most cases) never fully revealed to the reader. Wexler’s world is complex and so are his characters. A lot is happening both above and below the surface which might help along the confusion readers might struggle with throughout the book.

Despite the flaws, The Thousand Names is surprisingly epic and surprisingly absorbing. The plot does take some time to get its feet off the ground and really get moving, and the book does struggle with being perhaps a bit too complex and therefore slightly confusing. That being said, Wexler really shows his epic fantasy skill with his debut. He shows that he’s not only willing to play with the “big names” of epic fantasy, but that he is worthy of being compared to them. The Thousand Names is an interesting debut with its share of drawbacks, but the incredible world building, character development and yes, even the complexity of it all, will hook epic fantasy fans and leave them anxiously waiting for the next book in the series.

 

4/5 stars

 

 

5 thoughts on “The Thousand Names – Django Wexler

    1. Thank you. It was a hard review to write because so much happens throughout the book that it was very difficult to avoid spoilers. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

  1. This year seems to be a pretty good one so far for showing me books that I end up lusting over. This is one of them. Can’t wait until I can buy a copy and dig in! Excellent review, and it only made me want to read it more!

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