Tag Archives: The thousand names

The thousand names

The thousand names / Django Wexler

In my previous post I mentioned that I might do a longer post on this one. I’ve since finished the second book in the series (on the quatorze, no less) and have lots to say about it so I’m going to review this one first.

The thousand names is the first book of The shadow campaigns, a “flintlock fantasy” series heavily inspired by the time period of the French Revolution.

Plot summary

The Vordanian colonial troops in Khandar are in a rough place. After a religion-fueled rebellion, the Vordanian-backed Prince of Khandar has been forced to flee the capital. Stranded in a remote, barely defensible fortress, the Vordarians hope that the impending arrival of a new Colonel will come with orders to abandon Khandar to its new rulers. 

Unfortunately, the new Colonel is Janus bet Vhalnich, an absentminded noble who is convinced he can lead his undertrained, vastly outnumbered troops in a campaign to reconquer Khandar for its prince. 

So how is it?

It’s the first book in my favorite fantasy series I’ve read in quite a while. Still, some of my appreciation is down to very personal factors in that the series seems intent on catering to my whims so I’ll try not to oversell it to those who don’t share some of my more esoteric interests.

First, The thousand names is a novel about a military campaign before it is a fantasy novel. I picked it up off the new release shelf at the library where I worked during a time when I was having problems finding books to read. I almost abandoned it after reading the prologue and first chapter, as I found the apparent protagonists utterly unlikeable and it seemed like the book was going to be a rah-rah manly men love to fight kind of thing. It was only the references to thee petit caporal in the acknowledgement a that kept me going. Looking back on it and after rereading it I’m not sure where I was getting that from and am suspicious that I was just in a bad mood at the time. After reading it, I’ll say that it is one of the best campaign novels I’ve ever read.

The thousand names is significantly more straightforward than later books in the series. It functions well as a tight introduction to what will become an incredibly complex conflict. 

There’s an especially great sense of moral complexity. For the most part, the opposing factions are depicted as groups of individuals rather than monoliths. Neither side is particularly “good”, as both are just people. Wexler does a good job of writing about atrocities committed by both sides without absolving those responsible but also without using them to paint an entire culture as irredeemably evil. This moral complexity is further magnified in the sequel as the plot shifts from a military campaign with a specific well defined goal to politics.

The two easiest comparisons here are A song of ice and fire and The Malazan book of the fallen. It is heavily influenced by serious historical scholarship like the former and has the epic, strange, worldview of the latter.

I’ll say this again: I probably like this more than I would otherwise because the historical era Wexler draws from is near and dear to my heart. It’s also one where I have a more in-depth experience than is normal so I get extra pleasure from catching the little historical nods peppered throughout. Those who haven’t had jobs where they got to do things like translate Napoleon’s shopping lists might enjoy this less than I do.

Recommendation

I would recommend this whole-heartedly to anyone who reads fantasy OR historical fiction, but…

The thousand names is exclusively concerned with a single military campaign. The characters are great but if you don’t like to read about campaigns then you probably won’t enjoy this as much. Still, the sequel is very different so if it sounds intriguing but you’re less interested in the military history thing then you’d have to weigh whether or not it’s worth reading a 600 page prologue.

One could theoretically skip this one if one would prefer to get straight to the politics and more George R.R. Martin style fantasy and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who did so but my enthusiasm for the series makes that a hard course for me to recommend.

A few cross recommendations

The Aubrey-Maturin novels

The “Sharpe’s …” Novels

A song of ice an fire

The Malazan book of the fallen

The heroes and/or Joe Abercrombie generally

Advertisements

A reading list for LS

So a couple of weeks ago I was talking to somebody about books and offered to put together a list of suggestions for them. Because I’m lazy I decided to make the list do double duty as a blog post, and because I’m too lazy to type up an email and then copy-paste it to the blog I’m going to write it up here and send them the link instead. As a result you’ll be getting this a couple weeks late as I already had several posts buffered, so my apologies.

Anyways. This particular person had been somewhat unsatisfied by a lack of “edgy” reading material. They were disappointed by the ending of Redshirts as it was too upbeat for them, so I offered to put together a list of suggestions on the darker side. They cited the way Martin manages to make the reader fall in love with his characters before killing them off.

Crooked little vein / Warren Ellis — If you’re looking for edgy fiction it’s hard to find edgier than Crooked little vein. A “road novel” that exists to explore the bizarre excesses of weird humanity, this one has everything, incest, drug abuse, kaiju fetishists … (It’s like that thing were people get together and masturbate to Godzilla movies while wearing monster gloves) [end Stefon].

Ellis is known for excess, but Crooke little vein is excessive even for Ellis. It’s closer to Ennis in prose than anything else, which means it’s going to gross out or offend a huge portion of its potential audience. Think Palahniuk. 

The lies of Locke Lamorra / Scott Lynch — I reviewed this fairly recently so I won’t repeat myself a ton, but it has a lot of the strengths of Martin but transplants them from England to Italy and replaces political maneuvering with con games and elaborate revenge schemes.

The thousand names / Django Wexler — the third book in this series just came out. I wasn’t initially going to recommend it here as the first volume is very much a military-focused campaign novel, but a blurb on the second volume claimed that it “[does] for the Napoleonic wars what George R.R. Martin did for the War of the Roses.” The second book takes things in a more urban direction, and despite the fantasy genre it’s the best depiction of the French Revolution in fiction, hands down. Because there isn’t a one to one correlation between history and the plot Wexler can capture the atmosphere and competing tensions without distracting people looking for historical inaccuracies.

I almost dropped The thousand names after the first chapter, worried that it was going to be a classic “Europeans fight savage colonial rebels” style military fantasy novel but I stuck with it and was really pleasantly surprised.  I’ll probably post a more detailed review of this later unless I don’t.

American psycho / Brett Easton Ellis – I always forget that not everyone has read this so I don’t frequently recommend it, but this story of a yuppie who may or may not be a depraved serial killer is a classic of transgressive fiction.

Lock in / John Scalzi

This one is a murdwr mystery with a twist: in the near future, a disease has spread worldwide that renders a sizable portion of survivors “locked-in”. Completely conscious but with no control over their bodies, those so afflicted must rely on specially designed cradles to take care of their physical bodies while they control “threeps”, robotic surrogate bodies controlled via a surgically implanted interface. As threeps have become more common, public sentiment has started to shift. No longer seen as a disabled minority requiring special care merely to survive, the “normal” majority increasingly views the locked-in as excessively coddled and privileged.

It’s not a particularly edgy book but it’s an interesting premise and it is well written enough that I feel comfortable recommending it here nonetheless.

The heroes / Joe Abercrombie

I have a love-hate relationship with Abercrombie. I really disliked the First law trilogy as he seemed to be doing his best to make every character as unlikeable as possible. His later books have foud more of a balance, retaining the edginess and cynical outlook while creating more well-rounded characters. 

This is another one I’ll probably write a full post on later so I won’t say too much aside from this: The heroes is one of the best anti-war novels I have ever encountered and it shares Martin’s sensibility that goodness and best-ness aren’t really the same thing.

Things I would recommend but think you’re less likely to actually read

Preacher / Garth Ennis – a preacher finds himself with the power of the Word of God. Accompanied by his girlfriend and a foulmouthed Irish vampire, Jesse Custer travels the country looking to make God answer for his crimes. Ennis is arguably the kin of gratuitously edgy, and Preacher is his best known work.

Transmetropolitan / Warren Ellis – Transmetropolitan is really just an extended rant by Warren Ellis with science fiction trappings. Like the cyberpunk genre as a whole, as it has aged it has become much harder to distinguish some of the “futuristic” aspects from everyday life. With Transmetropolitan, which revels in hyperbole and obnoxiously excessive jokes, it is perhaps more surprising that some of those jokes now accurately describe contemporary society. 

Angel’s blood / Nalini Singh – this is a romance novel. Still, if you’re looking for edgy it’s pretty far up there, featuring a society rules by utterly amoral angels who have no real regard for mortals and treat humanity as disposable playthings at best. It’s by far the most violent book I’ve ever encountered in the romance section, only slightly less gruesome than American psycho.

Prédateurs / Maxime Chattham – as far as I can tell, this book is only available in French. Which is too bad because despite being by far the most disturbing book I have ever encountered it’s still really good and has a surprisingly uplifting ending. The story of a group of MPs attempting to stop a serial killer in the middle of a war zone, it presents an interesting commentary on human nature. The setting and time period are kept intentionally ambiguous, although it’s heavily implied that the characters are American soldiers on the western front of World War II. Jump on a translation if one exists.