One of the key aspects of this overall series is that the pace, tone, and settings change and evolve throughout the whole thing
Hello again dear reader/listener, today I offer you something a little different from a review. The reason being that I am currently re-reading one of my favorite series, and I thought, rather than review the single installments of it now for Before We Go, why don’t I share some reasons why you should read this kick-ass series I’ve enjoyed so much!
The Shadow Campaigns is a five-book series, whose first installment, The Thousand Names, I first found four years ago in a Barcelona bookstore. “But Eleni, you went to visit Spain to get books in English?” Well, you see, my best friend who was hosting me at the time set me loose in a bookstore and said, “find yourself a b-day present, on me”. By the time I returned home two days later I’d gotten half-way through and ordered the rest of the series in one go to then binge read over little less than three weeks. Let me share why:
The Shadow Campaigns Are Flintlock and Military Fantasy at its best:
If you, like me, enjoy gunpowder fantasy, ala Powder Mage for instance, this is definitely the series for you. Wexler creates some of the most enthralling ambiance I’ve read, and mainly because he renders it in a way that develops along with his characters throughout the story. What I mean by this is that, through a use of multiple POVs that each have different levels of experience with the various military/combat/tactical situations, the reader really feels as if they’re in it in the moment along with these characters. Marcus has seen more combat than Winter, by the start of the story for instance, so his first impact with a skirmish or a bigger engagement is far different than Winter’s comparatively newbie impressions. He looks for tactical advantages to turn a situation around, while Winter is scrambling to find ways to simply get her men through that first engagement alive. As she learns the ins and outs of musket, bayonet, and cannon battles though, she learns how to work around the gunpowder smoke blanketing the battlefields.
This is something which keeps the narrative engaging and riveting, especially during climactic scenes where all POV characters share the screen from different angles, to offer a full 360 view of the action. Later with the addition of Raesinia’s viewpoint, we are introduced to someone who is not battle savvy but has a mind for politics and machinations, among other things, which further adds another layer to the whole experience.
“You got rid of him?”
“For the moment,” Winter said. “Nothing confuses an officer like violently agreeing with him.”
― Django Wexler, The Thousand Names
History Easter Eggs:
Wexler borrows a lot from the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution, but he makes sure to make them his own in a way that assures his plot isn’t predictable to those who know their history. That said, catching the various real-life history easter eggs that are present throughout, be it for figures/people or events, is a lot of good fun, especially if that is something you enjoy doing when reading fantasy. I’ve no doubt missed a few myself which only makes me want to study the period again!
The Shadow Campaigns Has An Array of Incredible Characters:
The protagonists of these books are some of my all-time favorites and that is because they are written so dang well! Marcus, Raesinia, and Winter are all three reluctant heroes who step up when called, and they deliver to the best of their respective abilities. They are all also very done with their lot and following their inner monologues is some of the most fun you can have, through a mix of wry humor, self-deprecating, or leaning into their own personal melodrama, but most of all, with three different flavours of sass. What I love most about all of them is that they’re not perfect either, they are genuine, they have to adapt and change their ideas and beliefs when misguided or naïve, and that sort of development is always chef’s kiss to me. Especially because it means there are a lot of feels involved. Plus with Winter we have the added fun and tension of her being a woman pretending to be a man in order to be part of the army. The amount of edge-of-your-seat moments that revolve around her identity being revealed or not, or the unintended hilarity of certain moments and situations because of her hidden gender, are some of the passages I look back at the most fondly.
To accompany and complement the protags, the cast of side characters is wide and fleshed out in a manner that makes you miss them from the page when they’re not there, and/or cheer and exult when they reappear. Not everyone makes it to the end in one piece either and I still haven’t recovered from it, especially for a few of the truly unexpected ones that I am definitely *not* looking forward to mourning for again as I go through my reread… but I digress. They are fictional characters damnit! I should not grow this attached. Said every reader ever, as we lie to ourselves.
Special mention also goes to the fact that, back when I was first starting on adult SFF, this was among the very first series I read with LGBTQ+ rep, that felt organically incorporated into the story as it should, and not existing for token action (or ahem fetish crap) purposes.
“He expects me turn up for the inspection, glance through all of this, and then scurry back to Ohnlei to get on with my life. Marcus gave a rueful smile. More fool him. He doesn’t know I haven’t got a life.”
― Django Wexler, The Shadow Throne
The Magic System is a right mix of intriguing, eerie, and badass:
While magic is perhaps not as prevalent at the very start of the series, it is nonetheless important and a relevant dimension to this world. As the plot unfolds so do our characters find themselves more and more steeped in a reality of dark magic and creatures that are kept in the realm of myth and hearsay for the wider populace. Following the progression with which our characters initially don’t even believe in magic, and then find themselves actively dealing with it in a way that nobody expected makes for some amazing story-telling, that gradually layers this rich setting and story with intrigue upon intrigue. I could go on, but I’d enter major spoilers territory and I’d never forgive myself if I ruined that effect for anyone.
There’s something for everyone:
One of the key aspects of this overall series is that the pace, tone, and settings change and evolve throughout the whole thing, so that each book brings something new and slightly different to the table, without changing so much that you miss what it was like before. Look at it like a Pokèmon evolution if you like; it keeps getting cooler, bigger, and stronger. For example, at a very mild spoiler, book one is relatively limited in scope as the whole thing takes place during a desert campaign essentially; simple, straight-cut military fantasy, with a touch of magic, and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages hoping to unravel it. With book two, The Shadow Throne, the scope widens a little more and even though the main action is in the capital city of Vordan, things stir elsewhere as well. The intrigue is now also political, economic, and magical. There are revolutionaries, armsmen, spies, nobility scrambling to hold onto waning power, and all the delicious conflict this all breeds when they all come to blows trying to out-manoeuvre each other. Finally, from book three onward, things change considerably again, as the plot unfolds over various countries and cities, the action grows exponentially in both coolness and tactical acrobatics, and the stakes become higher than ever for our characters.
“They both offered Winter crisp salutes, but the expression on their faces made her uncomfortable. It was the look of women meeting a legend. When did I become a legend?”
― Django Wexler, The Price of Valour
Janus bet Vhalnich:
That’s it. He’s a whole entire reason onto himself. No, I will not elaborate because you have to see for yourself. But trust me on this.
“A certain understanding passed between them, the shared feeling of men tasked with keeping a superior from absentmindedly killing himself. Marcus suppressed a smile.”
― Django Wexler, The Shadow Throne
Well, then dear reader/listener, I hope this short list piqued your interest enough to give this marvelously glorious series a go, and as always, I love discussing it more with anyone, so find me on Twitter where I’ll be more than happy to rave about it with you. Also, if you’d like me to write more posts like these, maybe even on your recommendations, please do let me know! This was fun and I’m very likely to do it again.
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.
Eleni Argyró Efstratiadou