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.
~ Synopsis from Goodreads
This is the first book of a projected trilogy (I think) called The Shadow Campaigns.
The story starts in a place called Khandar that seems very similar to northern Africa.
There is a clash between the Vordanai (in our world, they would be Caucasians from Europe, probably France), and the locals called Khandarai. These parts of the story are very similar to recent Colonial history. The Vordanai are few in number but with much better army discipline and weapons. They are gathered in support of the local ruler of Khandar (a no-good prince), who has been overthrown by an army of religious fanatics.
Most of the story deals with how they fight to get the prince back on the throne again.
However, it wouldn’t be Fantasy without a bit of magic, would it? There are hints of dark magic throughout the first two parts. As we come towards the end of the campaign, the magic becomes more prominent. There is a very strong magical force called The Thousand Names and every one wants to be the master of it.
But what is this magic and what is the impact of owning this magic? Does it reach the right hands? All these are questions that will be answered in the sequels, I suppose.
My Take on this Book
I enjoyed this book. The first 200 odd pages are very much like a military campaign, with a lot of details on army maneuvering and tactics, and so on. These sections seem very much inspired by Napoleon’s adventures in Egypt.
I love stories about armies on the move, and of battles won and lost, so I loved this section. I’ve read many non-fiction books on military campaigns, and I have to say Wexler is pretty convincing when he writes about the military.
His writing and dialogues are crisp and on point, and just like how I would imagine soldiers of that time and in that situation would talk.
What I am saying is, if you are looking for more up-front Fantasy in the style of Tolkien, then this book is not for you.
However, if you slog past the campaign and the military bits, you will be well-rewarded.
One of the strongest aspects in this book is the characterization of all the people.
Janus, the Colonel who arrives to take charge of the colonial army, is the most interesting character. He’s eccentric, brilliant, and towards the end of the book shows interesting shades to his personality.
Marcus is quite unusual too. Surprisingly sensitive and realistically written, I have to say that he’s one well-written person. He does some stupid things, but his mistakes stem from his romantic nature and wish to do good.
If there is one disappointment in characterization, it is Winter. Winter is a girl fleeing from her past. She dresses up as a boy and soon does well in the army. I normally tend to dislike girls dressed as boys in books or movies. Very rarely are they convincing enough. And unfortunately, that’s the same here. It’s really hard to believe that girls can get away with it when they are in such close proximity to the men.
Another aspect of the book that made me uncomfortable is the colonial aspect of it. In this book, the Vordanai army is essentially an invader, but at the same time, we are asked to sympathize with their cause, which honestly isn’t sympathetic at all. They are in a foreign country, fighting on behalf of an inept ruler, and in search of something that does not belong to them. So, while I liked the individual characters, I could not sympathize or understand their cause at all.
I had to make a solid effort to ignore this unpleasant aspect of the book. I suspect that in the later books this take on events could change. If it doesn’t though, I will be quite disappointed.
Huge thanks to Penguin Random House for sending this book in exchange for an honest review.
You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon