The Shadow Throne review

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Shadow Throne is Django Wexler's second novel in the Shadow Campaigns series and was released last year. The first book in the flintlock and military Fantasy series, and Wexler's debut, The Thousand Names, was released back in 2013. The author made a good name for himself and I think he presented a solid debut creating higher hopes for the future. The Price of Valour (book 3 out of a planned 5) was released this summer.
Anyone can plot a coup or fire an assassin’s bullet. But in a world of muskets and magic, it takes considerably more to seize the throne. 
The ailing King of the Vordan lies on his deathbed. When he dies, his daughter, Raesinia Orboan, will become the first Queen Regnant in centuries—and a ripe target for the ambitious men who seek to control her. The most dangerous of these is Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information and master of the secret police. Having meticulously silenced his adversaries through intimidation, imprisonment, and execution, Orlanko is the most feared man in the kingdom. 
And he knows an arcane secret that puts Raesinia completely at his mercy. 
Exposure would mean ruin, but Raesinia is determined to find a way to break herself—and her country—out of Orlanko’s iron grip. She finds unlikely allies in the returning war hero Janus bet Vhalnich, fresh from a brilliant campaign in the colony of Khandar, and his loyal deputies, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass. 
As Marcus and Winter struggle to find their places in the home they never thought they would see again, they help Janus and Raesinia set in motion events that could free Vordan from Orlanko’s influence—at the price of throwing the nation into chaos. But with the people suffering under the Duke’s tyranny, they intend to protect the kingdom with every power they can command, earthly or otherwise.
One small aggravating factor for my rating of Wexler's first novel (I still gave the novel three and a half stars out of five) was the long march the heroes of Vordanai had to go through. Even if the focus of the book was mostly military, a plot worthy of a good Fantasy novel was brewing underneath the flintlock emphasis, magic and demons included. Still, the valiant efforts of the author to put his characters in situations where only a stroke of cleverness could save them weren't always effective. With that to work on to some degree, the path is marked out for an improved follow-up.

Speaking of cleverness, this is the trademark of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, the leader of the expeditionary forces who is the first to return triumphant to the capital of Vordan (Ohnlei) with only Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass and her Captain from the first book, Marcus d'Ivoire, in tow. Alas, from there his whereabouts are significantly reduced. However, in Shadow Throne, the Colonel's enemies are now well known and given short points of view (an improvement). One of them, the most prominent in the novel, is the last Duke, Orlanko, Minister of Information and the secret police. For the better part of the book, the man seems like the mighty opponent built since the first book but it doesn't stand up to the end (I'll come back to this later) and he can play the stereotypical part when he wants to.

Newly come to the story is Raesinia, the princess of Vordan. I have to give credits to Wexler for his strong, compelling and persuasive female protagonists. The only drawback is her bodyguard who is out of balance in this tale and comes up exclusively to save the day, almost miraculously. The young heir, with her cabal of scholars and insurgents, is slowly starting a revolution amidst her own people. With her addition and role in the story, Shadow Throne takes a turn from the military focus of the The Thousand Names to venture into political intrigue ground. This means less action sequences for the two thirds of the book and for me, a more interesting setup and continuation to support the narrative. However, it may coerce the fans of "military fantasy and skillfully rendered battles" (quote from my review of TTN) who favored the first opus into straying from the book.

Back to Raesinia. She's also gifted with a special ability giving her extra possibilities for more endeavors than the inception of a complicated but controlled revolt. Her thread is a fair substitute for the lack of camaraderie found originally in the motley Colonial forces. Moreover, she's not alone with a special skill. She eventually stumbles upon a charismatic and eloquent speaker, slightly inspired by the French revolution, aptly named Danton. They will both become the center of attention and his collaboration will put Raesinia on par with both Orlanko and Vhalnich in the battle for power. The author has a knack for creating powerful protagonists, a real player and even if I still liked Marcus parts of the story better, she's become more interesting than Winter.

Speaking of the incognito soldier, she doesn't seem to be given her due as a character. For her, the build-up was based on her lost lover. As you can gather, there's a reunion, that's not really a spoiler. I think that my problem with her thread isn't really the object of her desires, apprehension and both dreams and torment, it's the way she acts when she's around.  Maybe it's the fact that she becomes more vulnerable, but for me, it felt like a downgrade in term of development and her progress from the first book were thrown out the window.  As far as she's concerned, her particular status linking her to The Thousand Names is on hiatus and even if the book is far from having bridging novels problems, quite the contrary, she was a letdown. Jane though is another strong willed woman.

On the other hand, there's Marcus. In the first book, he really grew on me and now, he's got a new position giving him the opportunity to reminisce and find out more about the hurtful events of his past. Mix that up with a hand in the rebellion from the side of the 'police', a couple of interventions with Vhalnich and a significant part to play in the more important incidents and you get a nice thrilling ride seen from the conflicted, resolute mind of a resilient fighter, a protagonist with more depth than meets the eye. He grounds the story exactly to the needed extent.

When every thread collides, the pace picks up and things take on a more global approach. Action shifts to the next gear and while everyone's getting ready, the whole plot of Wexler reveals its true colors and they are rich.  The final battle itself isn't as mesmerizing, vivid or exiting as the ones from The Thousand Names and it's there that Orlando shows some silliness and carelessness out of character. Granting all this, the whole resolution of the affair is satisfactory even if I again, I thought that the talents of perception of Vhalnich are not outstanding.

Beyond the shadow (see what I did there!) of a doubt for me, I feel that The Shadow Throne is a better novel than its predecessor. The setting and plot is more tightly woven and more interesting than the story of The Thousand Names. The author is showing better skills with this type of account and succeeds in driving expectations forward. Magic and unnatural prowesses are not fully explained so there's room for a great finale with everything that has happened so far.

Cover:  The UK cover (the one at the top) looks much better.
Release date: July 3rd 2014
Map: A nice but not so useful map of Vordan is included (the action takes place only in Ohnlei)
Number of pages: 512 pages hardcover edition
Acquisition method: My own audiobook purchase
Other: No...

I liked...Was disappointed by...
The new charactersWinter's thread
The focus on political intrigue instead of warfareDuke Orlanko's inconstancy
The strong women charactersVhalnich staying in the shadows

The Shadow Throne review rating :

Steven Erikson's Fall of Light cover

Monday, August 24, 2015

The UK cover art for Steven Erikson's second Khakanas novel was released some time ago but didn't  seem to attract much attention. Can't wait? You'll have to until February 2016...
It is a bitter winter and civil war now ravages Kurald Galain, as Urusander's Legion prepares to march upon the city of Kharkanas.The rebels' only opposition lies scattered, bereft of a leader since Anomander's departure in search of his estranged brother, Andarist. The last brother remaining, Silchas Ruin, rules in Anomander's stead. He seeks to gather the Houseblades of the Highborn Noble families and resurrect the Hust Legion in the southlands, but is fast running out of time. 
The officers and leaders of Urusander's Legion, led by Hunn Raal, want the Consort, Draconus, cast aside and Vatha Urusander wedded to Mother Dark, taking his place on a throne at the side of the Living Goddess. But this union will be far more than political, as a sorcerous power has claimed those opposing Mother Dark - given form by the exiled High Priestess Syntara, the Cult of Light rises in answer to Mother Dark and her Children. 
Far to the west, an unlikely army has gathered, seeking an enemy without form, in a place none can find, and commanded by a Jaghut driven mad with grief. Hood's call has been heard, and the long-abandoned city of Omtose Phellack is now home to a rabble of new arrivals. From the south have come Dog-Runners and Jheck warriors. From the Western Sea strange ships have grounded upon the harsh shore, with blue-skinned strangers arriving to offer Hood their swords. And from the North, down from mountain fastnesses and isolated valleys, Toblakai arrive, day and night, to pledge themselves to Hood's impossible war. Soon, all will set forth - or not at all - under the banners of the living. Soon, weapons will be drawn, with Death itself the enemy. 
Beneath the chaos of such events, and spanning the realm and those countless other realms hidden behind its veil, magic now bleeds into the world. Unconstrained, mysterious and savage, the power that is the lifeblood of the Azathanai, K'rul, runs loose and wild. Following its scent, seeking the places of wounding where the sorcery rushes forth, entities both new and ancient are gathering. And they are eager to feed. 
Comprehending the terrible risk of his gift of blood, a weakened, dying K'rul sets out, in the company of a lone guardian, to bring order to this newborn sorcery - alas, his choice of potential allies is suspect. In the name of order, K'rul seeks its greatest avowed enemy.

A Round of Covers

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's time for another round folks!


Angry Robot Books unveiled the cover for Kameron Hurley second book in the Worldbreaker saga, Empire Ascendant (the follow-up to The Mirror Empire). Richard Anderson strikes again! Great work! The book will be out later this year.


The Dread Wyrm, the third book in the Traitor Son cycle by Miles Cameron (following The Red Knight and The Fell Sword) will be out in October. While the UK cover followed the same pattern as the first two books, the US cover revealed a more interesting illustration. Here's the cover for the Orbit books edition:


Finally, here's the beautiful work of Stephan Martiniere for Michael Swanwick just released book, Chasing the Phoenix.




Hear ye, hear ye! Gather around for the newest gossip!


Orbit Books announced the acquisition of a new series from the author of the Raven's Shadow series (Blood Song, Tower Lord and Queen of Fire), Anthony Ryan.  The new series is named Draconis Memoria and the first book, The Waking Fire, will be released in July 2016. Here's the blurb for this new Epic series:
Anthony has always created memorable characters, and the protagonists of his latest tale are his finest creations yet. Clayton Torcreek is a straight-talking small-time criminal, while Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin. Both of them are ‘Blood-blessed’ – able to consume the blood of wild drakes, which grants them spectacular abilities. 
As the Ironship Protectorate and the Corvantine Empire prepare for war, these two individuals will both find themselves embroiled in the ongoing hostilities. Clay must venture into the uncharted wilds in search of an expedition that disappeared under mysterious circumstances, while Lizanne must go undercover in enemy territory in order to locate an ancient artefact that may just swing the balance of the war – but only if she can reach it first.

Next up is Scott Lynch, with less good news.  The Thorn of Emberlain, the fourth book in the Gentlemen Bastards sequence is delayed.  Even if that's not the first time for Lynch, this time, he seems enthusiastic as to the length of this delay. A 2016 date is the target.


Shining in a more positive light is the fate of R. Scott Bakker's The Unholy Consult, the finale of the Aspect-Emperor trilogy. Back in June, Bakker shared a sad news, the publication process being on hold. It seems that the pressure from the fans to the publisher paid off since the process is now back on track and a date should be announced soon enough! Great work guys!


Finally, I wanted to share to interesting free reads that ought to give you a nice taste of two upcoming novels for September, Twelve Kings (no more in Sharakhai) by Brad (no more P.) Beaulieu and Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss.


New map for N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

This is the first map for a novel by the author of the Inheritance trilogy. Moreover, it looks like she's not really a fan of maps but she needed one for the Stillness, the setting of her new book, The Fifth Season. This beautiful map is the work of the prolific map maker Tim Paul.


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