This is the very first time I am reviewing not a single book, but an entire series. I must admit, it comes with a small shift in perspective, but the principles seem to be pretty much the same, just applied on a larger scale, so… let’s get to it! 🙂
The Shadow Campaigns, by Django Wexler, is a five-part series of novels, consisting of The Thousand Names, The Shadow Throne, The Price of Valor, The Guns of Empire, and The Infernal Battallion. There is a pair of shorter novellas as well, The Penitent Damned and The Shadow of Elysium, which give a little background on my personal favorite character before she enters the later novels. (though there remains a small gap still to be filled, hint hint, Wexler…)
Though it is set in a fantastical world, the series obviously draws on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars for inspiration. It follows a few pivotal figures as they navigate the hazards of a world that is plunged into upheaval, partially as a result of their own actions. There are social, political, religious, military, and financial powers at work, all as they struggle through their own personal matters in the face of tremendous physical danger and hardship. There is hope, despair, love, loss, revenge, redemption, and more. There is a wide variety of locations, a realism to the waging of war, a believable brilliance and weakness to the heroes and villains, overwhelming themes of finding peace and freedom, and, in the end, there is a terrifying, ancient evil which must be overcome.
In short… wow, this is a really fun ride! It is jam-packed with most everything we could ask for and then some!
There are a few central characters, the ones whose perspective we see the story through: Marcus D’Ivoire, a noble and capable military officer; Winter Ihernglass, also a noble and capable military officer but also a woman disguised as a man; Raesinia Orboan, heir to the throne of her country. Through their eyes, we see Janus bet Vhalnich, a brilliant military leader with a mind that far exceeds most others, and a host of other characters, most of them easy to either love or hate, with their own strengths and weaknesses and humanity. It can get a little dizzying to keep track of on occasion, but most of them become as familiar to us, the audience, as our own friends. That means we can enjoy every moment we have with them, and we feel the loss of it when one of them dies. Which, in a fashion that George R.R. Martin would be proud of, can happen at any time. One may grow accustomed to the survival of the most central heroes by the end, but one is very much justified in fearing not only for their lives, as the series reaches towards its conclusion, but also what losses they will suffer.
I have very few complaints about how the story of these people is told. It’s told very realistically, as I said, yet it doesn’t really overdo anything. Yes, there is a great deal of blood and violence and death, and there is sex and sensuality, and there is coarse language, and there are complicated, powerful themes. Yet, all of it is treated with just enough taste and restraint so as to lend weight to the story, instead of putting us off it.
The structure of the story, both in each novel and overall, is well-paced and intricate. It balances the complexities of nations with the simplicities of life. It’s very entertaining to read, never dull, and it shows much more than it tells.
In short, The Shadow Campaigns is simply a very well-crafted and well-told story about people we can care about, in most intriguing and exciting situations, experiencing most everything there is. It’s not meant for children, of course, but it’s still fantastic.
If there is one complaint I have, it’s how we don’t quite actually see the final fate of one particular character. It leaves that one, final question not entirely answered. It merely hints at some possibilities, and lets us imagine what happens next. Which isn’t entirely bad.
All in all, this may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s exceptionally well done.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.
Grade: solid A.