The Thousand Names

The Thousand NamesWell, I only read one of the books I said I was going to this summer, apparently because I can’t tie myself down like that. But it was quite a book. Although mildly escapist, Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names is a page-turner. That’s what summer’s about anyway, right? Beach reads.

Easy to get into and easy to stick with, The Thousand Names holds a captive audience by means of some of the most riveting battle scenes I’ve ever read. Wexler is gifted in this aspect. Battle is something I’ve always struggled to write because of the sheer amount going on and the significance of all of the details.

Wexler handles vast sweeps of battle with ridiculous ease. He hones in on the characters we care about while opening the canvas to broader analysis simultaneously. And he’s nicer to his characters than, say George R. R. Martin. It’s very satisfying.

My biggest complaint with this book was with the covert theme. It deals with colonialism, and the opposing sides mirror the real world West against what they considered the ‘undeveloped world’. The cultures are close to home, and the book capitalized on the forces of good standing behind empirical technology, while the evil forces amounted to either mystics or soldiers using weapons that the enlightened people gave them.

It does help that the good vs. evil dichotomy turns out a little more nuanced than that, making the whole thing less offensive. And of course the mystics’ magic is real (and horrific) and not limited to this edge of the world.

I say colonialism is a covert theme because Wexler is much more interested in the characters and descriptions of battle, which is good, but I still wish the characters were more willing to discuss the different sides and the cause/effect outcomes of the world they lived in. They were certainly smart enough to do so. Just a personal preference, mind you.

But by the end, this macro-theme just seems too big for the book to handle. It focuses instead on the gendered presumptions of a male-dominated society, and while Winter (the primary female soldier) is likable and interesting; the reader’s sympathy with her is somewhat muted by our lack of surprise. The cultures are almost too familiar – too worldly historical.

A bit too ambitious, but charming nonetheless. This is gunpowder fantasy at it’s most engaging when action is concerned. Not as engaging thematically. I’d highly recommend it as…well, a summer read.


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