“In the desert colony of Khandar, a dark and mysterious magic, hidden for centuries, is about to emerge from darkness.

Marcus d’Ivoire, senior captain of the Vordanai Colonials, is resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost, when a rebellion leaves him in charge of a demoralized force in a broken down fortress.

Winter Ihernglass, fleeing her past and masquerading as a man, just wants to go unnoticed. Finding herself promoted to a command, she must rise to the challenge and fight impossible odds to survive.

Their fates rest in the hands of an enigmatic new Colonel, sent to restore order while following his own mysterious agenda into the realm of the supernatural.”

The Thousand Names (cover)The Thousand Names is the latest in the growing trend of Flintlock Fantasy novels, inspired more by 18th century France than the usual medieval trappings we have come to expect. Whereas Brian McClellan focused more on the political aspects of the time period in A Promise Of Blood and developed a world full of magic, Wexler has chosen to take us on a military campaign, where his blue-coated heroes’ discipline and etiquette are tested against a pseudo-Arabian guerilla force and where magic is considered no more than ideal superstition.

Leading events is Count Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich Mieran – Napoleon in all but name – a strange but highly effective military leader, who has the unenviable job of winning back a dusty patch of land, far from home, for an undeserving king, with soldiers that would rather avoid any heroics at any cost. He’s a quirky little character. His intelligence is his greatest weapon but also his weakness too. It can leave him emotionally detached from the men around him, particularly as they struggle to keep up with him and, of course, there is nothing the common soldier fears more than a clever leader. Clever gets them killed every time.

Marcus is his reluctant right-hand, dragged far from his comfort zone into a world he doesn’t understand, and into battles he doesn’t think he can win. In many ways he’s Watson to Janus’ Holmes. He slowly recognizes Janus’ ability but is also aware of the danger the Colonel is placing them all in. He struggles with his desire to do the right thing – questioning whether his loyalty is to his commanding officer, to his friends or to his men. He’s a very likeable character, but perhaps a little too clean cut to be truly loveable.

Winter, on the other hand, has you rooting for her from the moment she appears. Promoted beyond her ability because a cruel superior wants her dead, she survives on instinct, winning the trust and respect of her men despite having no real idea of what she’s expected to do. Obviously her big secret – that she’s a woman masquerading as a man – adds extra tension to all her undertakings. She’s very aware that any trust and friendship she’s won with the soldiers under her command will be lost in an instant if anyone was to discover the truth.

The Thousand Names (cover UK)Ironically, Winter’s secret is the only thing I didn’t like about the character. In trying so hard to challenge all the fantasy stereotypes, I wish Wexler had just allowed women to serve in his fictional army. None of Winter’s wonderful character would have been lost – she could still be hiding from her past and out of her depth in the army without pretending to be a man. Having a mixed gender army would have been a truly revolutionary approach for Wexler to take.

There is magic in the book, but it’s very much in the background with most people unaware of its existence until the end when it comes roaring out of the darkness. When it comes, it’s violent and shocking and a real challenge for our heroes despite their cannons and muskets. It sets up a new reality that promises much for the further novels in the Shadow Campaigns series.

Wexler is extremely skilled at turning up the tension, and always has you wondering how his heroes are going to get out of their next scrape. Blood is spilled, limbs are lost and the cost for success is always high. And, just when you think you know what’s going to happen, he manages to pull the rug out from under you with a lovely little twist at the end.

The Thousand Names is an assured debut from Django Wexler and a must-read if you enjoy an action-packed, page-turner. It’ll be interesting to see where Flintlock Fantasy goes as a movement – if it can stay fresh and exciting – but for now I’m hooked.


By Mike Shackle

Mike Shackle is a citizen of the world, having lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and New York before returning to his hometown of London where he now resides with his wife, son and a French bulldog called Ribsy. His other constant traveling companions around the globe have been his comic books, his favorite fantasy novels and an army of super-hero statues. He more often than not can be found daydreaming over a cup of tea.

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