Published by Roc on July 2nd, 2013
Where to begin here to gush about this book? Let me start from the very simple information. This is a gush review and the excitement took over – hence it is more difficult to put my thoughts in an orderly manner.
This is the first installment in the Shadow Campaigns series. The name of the series is so clever and you will connect the reference only while reading the book; I thought that was a clever use of the name, a bit out of the latest “quick” shortcut using the title of the first book.
Now, imagine being a soldier in a 18th or 19th century, armed of your bayonet and shipped to a far region, in the desert, and remote from anything you know. Imagine living there for some years without being really involved in any fight; imagine receiving suddenly a new colonel and he suddenly drives you into battles with locals.
Imagine how rattled you would be when the rifles start shooting all around you; when you are asked to stand still and wait for the chain of command to issue the shooting command while the opposing faction is running towards you – and not only running but riding horses at you.
That must be terrifying. Nothing short than that. This book is just that good in making you participate in the life of the soldier.
And let me stress out the detail again: The book is set in the desert. Amazing descriptions of the desert too.
The writing style is amazing – clear and delightfully ample in descriptions. Now, there is an argument that (too many) descriptions might be boring and unnecessary. In this case, they work perfectly well; impressive amount of useful details (including the gory ones which make the scenes more realistic) that increase the quality of the book.
One more element I can add here before digging into additional details. The book is built to follow two points of view, Winter and Marcus who are amazing characters – and more details in a second!
From now on we dive into spoiliry details! Beware of the spoiler!
The story is spectacular. It starts and focuses on military activities. This is a book following an army that – despite the limited numbers – wins battle after battle. An army that recently was assigned a new colonel, Janus bet Vhalnich. A man with extraordinary brains (and being clever is not necessarily a positive trait in the army as Marcus will point out here and there) who is willing to expose his army and himself to risks in order to achieve greater results.
Marcus d’Ivoire is a great captain – he is in command of the army until Janus comes on board. And Marcus becomes the right hand of the colonel; torn by this position, often being in charge of army once again, having to take unpopular or difficult decisions. He is a hopeless gentlemen, almost too much for his own good. He will actually start a romantic relationship with the mysterious Jen, a woman who is sent to “observe and report” on behalf of the Last Duke.
Winter Ihrenglass is a soldier who is volunteer by her hateful Sargent Davis. Davis thinks it is a suicide mission – why else asking for people deserving a promotion without explaining the reason of such advancement? – but it turns out to be a promotion. Winter – a woman in an army where only men are enlisted who has a past that taunts her and a past she tried to escape as much as possible, yet is constantly there to remind Winter where she comes from – is a serious soldier, dedicated to her job, caring for her troops and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for her soldiers – or to allow the rest of the army to survive. It is just a great combination of self doubt, a constant element which makes her so much stronger than she is, and stubbornness. Yet, she is smart, quick to read the battlefield, deciding even faster how to attack or counter attack and standing next to her soldiers.
Now, her secret – being a woman – is actually a big burden and she constantly needs to pay attention to this. But what she would never expect is that one of her corporals, Bobby, would actually revamp her mysterious past; and sharing the same secret as Winter!
And another amazing lady added to the team is Feor – a local girl who is knowledgeable about magic and she has special abilities. She is actually one of the last protectors of the Thousand Names by the end of the book; yet throughout the book she will be the trigger of many of the most dangerous interactions for Winter and Bobby!
Now, magic; for two thirds of the book, the story mostly focuses on the battles and the military life of our POV. Yet, and almost suddenly, magic is introduced in the world through Feor. Feor binds a spirit (possibly a way to describe it) into Bobby’s body when she is about to die – the wrinkle here is that the binding would work only with women although there is no explanation for this particular element; it is just the way it is. She might die in the process yet her skin acquires an odd white color. Feor is afraid that the consequences of the binding is her death or casting from her society but she performs the ritual anyhow. This event triggers two different reactions: Bobby becomes invincible (even when she is being slashed in half by a sword) and Feor becomes depressed and ready to get killed.
Connected to the binding are the Thousand Names. Janus’ actual mission is to find the Thousand Names and use them; yet the ending of the book will reserve amazing surprises. Janus who for a second was slipping in the bad guys field, is actually the rescuer of the names, he genuinely wanted to avoid the names to fall in the Shadow Priests hands – an old evil society that was known as disbanded years before but it became an evil secret society! – yet wanted the names to perform the binding on himself. Yet, in order to save the day, the one who participates in the binding is actually Winter – upon Feor’s suggestion and due to the fact that she is a strong woman.
The last note is for Mother, a very peculiar and ancient presence who tries to contrast Janus until she cannot oppose him any longer. A struggle that ends up in her “disappearance”; but did she really disappear?
Let me also highlight that the book ends with a change of pace, the book clearly introduces the new setting and that ending was so good I needed to start the new book immediately – so I peaked into The Shadow Throne and I am more excited than ever!