Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

98b14-theshadowthroneThe Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Shadow Campaigns

Publisher: Roc (July 1, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I used to think military fantasy wasn’t my thing, but ever since I started reading a lot again for book blogging, it’s become even more apparent that what I like or what I don’t like isn’t so much about the genre or sub-category, but is in the way it’s written. I saw that last year when I read Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, an epic military flintlock fantasy that invariably clicked with me. In fact, I would say it did more than that; it ended up being one of my top reads for 2013.

In the end, a novel’s genre or topic doesn’t matter; it’s characters first and foremost, and that’s the way it has always been. I think this is why I find so many of Wexler’s books enjoyable to read; whether it’s his epic fantasy, urban fantasy, or even middle-grade fantasy, his talents for writing great characters are exceptional. I first fell in love with Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass, his two main protagonists in The Thousand Names, but eventually grew to appreciate many of the supporting characters as well.

I guess that’s why I was initially nervous when I first picked up The Shadow Throne, the sequel that I’d been so impatiently waiting for, and saw that we mostly had a new batch of characters, a new setting, and a whole different kind of war to fight. Sure, I was glad to see that Marcus and Winter were back, but then again, all those wonderful personalities I met in the first book – Fitz, The Preacher, Give-Em-Hell, Graff, Bobby, and pretty much the whole of the Vordanai Old Colonial army – were also largely absent from this one. But thank goodness we still got plenty of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, because I honestly don’t know what I would have done without my favorite military genius.

The Shadow Throne picks up directly from where things left off in The Thousand Names – the war in Khandar is won, and Janus, Marcus and Winter return in haste to the capital as heroes – but even so, there were times I felt the sequel read like a whole different story. Nothing terribly wrong with that, though. There’s still plenty of open conflict, but instead of the broad, sweeping battles in the desert, most of it takes place within the city walls of Ohnlei. It’s a very unstable time with the King of Vordan on his deathbed, and men like the dangerous and power-hungry Duke Orlanko are circling like vultures around the young, delicate princess and heir, waiting to manipulate her and seize control.

However, the princess Raesenia is more than she appears. Like, a LOT more. There’s a huge secret about her that gets revealed early on in what might be one of the best and most surprising scenes of the novel. My earlier disappointment about not seeing more of the characters from the first book ended up being rather short-lived, because Raesinia as a new point-of-view character pretty much made up for it single-handedly. Her perspective added a whole new layer to this story, and it’s great to see another strong female character in this series who’s not afraid to buck expectations and take control of her own life. In fact, it’s the women who steal the show in The Shadow Throne. While Marcus continues to hold his own, I have to say Winter and Raesinia’s chapters were the highlight for me in this one. And let’s not forget the deadly assassin Sothe or the girls of the Leatherbacks gang led by their bold leader (whose identity is yet another surprise).

Admittedly, the story was slower to start off and took some time to gain momentum, seeing as it had to introduce new characters and also to set up the political climate in this new environment. I also feel The Thousand Names was a stronger novel, but probably because the themes of it suited me more, whereas The Shadow Throne felt very different in overall tone. It’s more of tale of revolution, with a heavier focus on political intrigue and differences in ideology between Borelgai supporters and those who want to see Vordan free from the clutches of Duke Orlanko’s influence. A lot of the conflict has shifted to another front, with bloody battles in the city streets but also fierce verbal clashes in the shadows of palace chambers, university classrooms, common taprooms and other places where dissidents gather.

The action therefore felt a little more subdued and on a smaller scale in this one, and a couple of action scenes also had to happen “off-screen” due to limitations imposed by only having a handful of POV characters. But this in no way diminished my enjoyment. There’s a grand siege near the middle of the story that had me biting my nails, and I loved me some subterfuge and the bigger role that espionage played in the book. The author made sure that the quieter, more discreet action sequences that took place in the shadows were just as engaging to read as the all-out battles.

So with a novella and two full length novels officially under its belt, can I finally say The Shadow Campaigns is one of my favorite fantasy series out right now? Certainly my favorite military fantasy. I knew from the very start that The Thousand Names would be a tough act to follow and that book two would have big shoes to fill, but The Shadow Throne was no slouch; it delivered exactly what I wanted to see in the sequel – raised stakes, impactful decisions that furthered the plot, and of course, more of Wexler’s outstanding characters.

63ab3-4-5stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Roc Books!

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29 Comments on “Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

    • The author has also said the series will get back into all out full-scale battles in book 3 as well which would be more my thing, so yes, building strong!

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  1. I’m definitely not a fan of military fiction, but I’m with you: great characters make any kind of story soar for me, whether the characters are carrying rifles or wands. I must read this guy soon! I’ve heard nothing but awesome reviews/comments about his books.

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    • There’s also always the Forbidden Library which I know you picked up at the con! Highly recommended for more of a quicker, lighter read 🙂

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  2. I really enjoyed the first in the series, despite never having read military fantasy before. Really looking forward to this one, great review!

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  3. I totally agree! People are missing out on some great books by constantly looking at what ‘genre’ they fall into (and really I’m including myself in that because I always veer in the opposite direction of romance or chick lit!) I love well written characters that come alive off the page more than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I also appreciate good world building and a decent plot but I think I’m probably more character focused than anything else. And, I want a character this is plausible and acts – well, frankly, in character! This is a great review – I do want to read these books – they’re so popular but I don’t mind being behind to be honest. Two of the books are out now so I can just take my sweet time!
    Lynn 😀

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    • I know what you mean, my tastes have narrowed down a lot in the last few years, but I’m trying to branch out a bit while still trying to stay in the realm of spec fic which is ultimately my comfort zone. I’d read romances and chick lit as long as they have a fantasy spin on them, LOL!

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  4. Normally I’m not one for heavy political intrigue but it sounds like that’s not the entire goal of the series to be ‘that’ kind of series so I still totally look forward to reading the first. I love with an author has a great strength in characters and getting you to attach to them. Its something i really value.

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    • I think you will like the first book better – it’s more epic in scope with lots of big battles and sweeping campaigns. Book two is about revolution, more on the political intrigue and heavily inspired by the French Revolution. That said, if you’re a history buff, you’d eat these books up!

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  5. I don’t think I know this series because the cover of book 1 doesn’t ring a bell but I’m glad you had a great time with book 2. You’re right, the characters are always the most important things in a story.

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  6. I only read the first half of your review to avoid spoiling anything about the series for myself, but DANG I am excited! Sounds like you’re loving this series and I trust your judgement! The Thousand Names will be my first substantial military fantasy and I’m really looking forward to diving in.

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  7. I’ve been a bit cautious after seeing that there isn’t really any military action but I’m very excited to hear that Vhalnich is a big character in this. Reading it either before or after ABADDON’S GATE.

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    • There is still some military action in this, but I feel substantially much less than The Thousand Names. And I hear ya about Janus – I love him!

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