Django Wexler is now quite well-known in US fantasy, and this book is how his ‘Shadow Campaign’ series starts. This is only the second ‘flintlock fantasy’ I’ve ever read – Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Guns of the Dawn’ was the first – and it’s excellent. The background is completely convincing, and as backgrounds go it’s quite original in fantasy (if not in history). The characters too are similarly believable.
The story is set in the dusty outpost of a colonial Empire, which has been attacked by both urban and desert peoples (imagine a Napoleonic army chasing fleet-footed enemies from Alexandria to Cairo and you’ll get the idea, though admittedly this story is on a smaller scale). Wexler certainly knows his military history. The set-piece battles are a real strength, and the author makes everything come alive for the reader. – But, ah, I now worry that some readers are imagining nothing but sweaty uniformed males doing blood-and-guts soldierly things. Not so! There is, of course, lots of blood and some guts, but this book could appeal to almost everyone, and there is more than a sprinkling of important female characters. You are likely to be surprised by this aspect of the story.
Other than the convincing fighting, the greatest strength here is the characterization. You will really care about Winter, about Count Janus the superbly gifted and eccentric colonel, about well-meaning Marcus, and the others. If anything, the reader gets to know them in a little too much detail – but I suppose seeds have to be sown for the sequels.
The desert people have a culture and a magic all their own. I might mention that I come to fantasy largely for those moments when ‘something else’ – call it magic, call it poetry – shines through into everyday reality. In this book that didn’t happen for a while; but then it did. The moments when magic happens here are comparatively few, but they are all powerful. There is a lot here that will linger in the memory, and I am happy to recommend Django Wexler as a writer and this book in particular.