When a major military conflict has concluded and a treasure is found, what are soldiers to do? In the case of Marcus d’Ivoire, Winter Ihrenglass, and the leader of their military unit Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, they return home. While the soldiers were accustomed to military conflict in the battle trenches, the home to which they return is in a conflict of a different sort – political. The King is dying, people are vying for power with his death on the horizon and as a result, one of our new (and a most welcome one at that) point of view characters is the king’s daughter, Raesinia. However, the young princess is far more than she appears. Soon after Wexler introduces her, she jumps out of her window only to “survive” the fall. Raesinia is also working as something of a revolutionary with the populace, realizing that Duke Orlanko, the true power in Vordan, is close to seizing all the power he has been craving.
That introduction to Raesinia is one of the most shocking and powerful character introductions I’ve come across in quite some time and with it, Wexler sets the tone for the novel. For even though he played with the expectations of readers familiar with the Military Fantasy genre in The Thousand Names, Wexler boldly announces he is forging something truly his own in The Shadow Campaigns saga.
D’Ivore continues a similar track as he did in The Thousand Names, but finds himself in even more over his head. The people he thought he could trust before he left on the campaign which comprised The Thousand Names are not quite the same ones who greet him upon his return. His trust of Janus continues to be questioned (by those around him) and his loyalty never waivers, if anything, Marcus trusts his superior even more than he did after the successes they’ve experienced together. D’Ivore is also contending with his own past, which comes a bit more into the light here in the second novel. Hints are thrown his way about circumstances of his parent’s death and the fire that destroyed his childhood home. What makes the situation even tenser is that Marcus is hearing these hints from an enemy prisoner, who dangles just enough plausibile information in front of Marcus to send him questioning others.
Meanwhile, Winter is sent undercover by Janus to infiltrate a revolutionary group called the Leathernecks, whose inner circle is composed entirely of women. So she’ll be a woman posing as a man posing as a woman. While Janus knows her true gender, Winter still plays a game of layers to keep her secret as hidden as possible both from her people and those she is infiltrating. As an added incentive to Winter, Janus suggests that this group may lead Winter to her lost friend Jane, the woman about whom Winter dreamt quite often in The Thousand Names.
One of the things that Wexler does so well in both of these novels is to really lay down a level playing field for gender and sexuality. The groundwork was laid in The Thousand Names with Winter’s character and again, the theme continues when she is reunited with her friend / companion / lover Jane, whom she last saw in the women’s prison from which she escaped prior to the beginning of The Thousand Names. What I found most effective in this point is how matter-of-factly Janus works with Winter and Jane to bring their female-only battalion into the military fold. In fact, Winter is the one who made the biggest deal out of it and was surprised at how amenable (and frankly figured into his plans) Janus was to Winter’s plan. Janus places the same rules and restrictions as he would on any military unit, but adds the caveat that the men alongside whom they serve may not be as friendly.
The Shadow Throne is an extremely successful second-in-a-series book, and nearly perfect one in that regard. Wexler takes the characters we know from the previous volume and puts them in challenging situations which allows them to grow along the track charted in the first novel, with some surprises as well. Things hinted at in book one come more into the light as fully formed developments in the world / series and Wexler expands the cast in a smart and exciting fashion. It is a novel that, a week after finishing it, still has me thinking strongly about it, realizing upon reflection how very good it was/is, and anticipating the third book in the series.
© 2014 Rob H. Bedford
Roc, July 2014
Hardcover, 500 Pages / ISBN: 978-0-451-418-067
Review copy courtesy of the publisher, Roc