Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
Series: Book 2 of The Shadow Campaigns
Publisher: Roc (July 1, 2014)
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.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Roc Books!