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 :


Sabrina A. Fish said...

This one is on my 'to-read' list and it saddens me that Winter didn't get to shine like I'd hoped. I'm still looking forward to reading it and am happy to hear we get to detour a bit from the military aspects. I love a good political intrigue!

Carykon said...

Thanks great blog ppost

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