Book: “The Thousand Names” by Django Wexler
Publishing Info: Roc, July 2013
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: 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.
Review: I honestly don’t remember how this book came to be on my to-read pile, and I also had very little to zero memory of what the basic premises was when I picked it up. A fantasy novel…ok…got it. So, without much preparation or expectation, it was an adventure discovering this book and a pleasant surprise, especially considering it was not the type of fantasy I typically read.
As readers of this blog may have picked upon, my fantasy reading tends to veer towards the “fairytale-like” and medieval fantasy. This is decidedly not that. It can only be described as military fantasy, and, surprisingly, I kind of dug it. Our two chapter perspective characters, Marcus and Winter, both serve in a regiment of the army that is stationed in a far-away outpost, only now seeing action after an uprising of the native people have pushed their army to the sea. They meet up with the newly-arrived Colonel Vhalnich, and while at first skeptical of this eccentric new leader, both, in their own way, come to discover that he may be a military genius…and also caught up in some other nefarious plots! My use of the ellipses is intentional. The military genius portion is by far the more emphasized part of the story than the mystical plots.
Hats off to Wexler for making such a military-focused story appealing to even casual fans like myself. While it took a bit longer for me to become invested in the story and to fully realize (and accept) that this is what this book was going to be, ultimately, by halfway through the story, I was thoroughly enjoying even the most detailed of military strategy. Most likely this was due to the fact that by this point I was thoroughly invested in our main characters (Marcus/Winter), and almost equally invested in their subordinates (Bobby, Graff, etc) and was frantically urging them to “form square!” and “pull back!” and dreading each page turn where surely one of them wouldn’t make it through.
I also really enjoyed Colonel Vhalnich. We never get a chapter from his perspective, but in many ways he is the Sherlock to Marcus’s Watson. And I always love a “Sherlock-esque” brilliant character! He even throws out “Just wait and see, my dear lad, all will be clear in time!” lines! This may be a very specific joy of mine and not mean much to others, but I loved it.
Marcus was a decent protagonist, fairly straightforward and reminiscent of a “knight in shining armor” character. While I admired his devotion to his friends, there were plenty of times where I just wanted to smack him upside the head at the idiocy of some of his gallantry. There were a few twists that I saw coming a mile away that I couldn’t quite forgive him for missing (though I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be surprised as readers as well…ah all, this is what comes from reading so much of the same genre!).
Winter, however, was a completely unique and thoroughly enjoyable character to find in this type of novel. A run-away young women who has disguised herself as a man and been hiding out in the army for years as a form of survival and, almost, self-penitence for failing her lover Jane in a critical moment years before. I’ve come across the warrior-women-disguised-as-a-man character plenty of times before, but what is notable about Winter is not only sexuality (we avoid many of the romance tropes with other male characters in the military this way) but also her general reluctance to be there. It’s more a survival tactic than some deep-seeded desire to be a combatant. Her arc and growth was the most compelling part of this story.
The first half of the book is, as I said, very firmly rooted in its military tactics, and while this emphasis continues to a point throughout the whole story, I was happy when we got into a bit more of the magic and mystery towards the second third. The history and players in this set-up were interesting and new. However, by the time the book wrapped itself up, I was still left with a lot of questions. I’m unsure whether this is a good or a bad thing. It is clearly set up as the first in a series, so not all secrets should be told. But, especially with regards to the title object itself “The Thousand Names,” I found myself still largely confused about what exactly it was and how it was important.
Overall, for a story that was pretty far out from my usual preferences, I found myself very much enjoying this book. Winter was a refreshingly new lead character; it was fun to be annoyed with Marcus’s “idiotic nobility” moments; and, as I’ve said many a time, I like genius characters like the Colonel. So, while I won’t be in a mad rush for the second book, I will definitely include it on my “get to it eventually” list. But if you like military fiction more than I do, definitely check this book out!
Rating 8: A surprisingly engaging read, though perhaps not sticking the landing and reveals as well as I might have liked.
Find “The Thousand Names” at your library using WorldCat.