Read Recently — December 2015 — Adventures on the edge of fantasy

The Shadow Throne: book two of the Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler

This sequel to The Thousand Names (here) takes us back to Vordan. The King is dying and many forces are scrambling to seize control in the wake of his passing; Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich needs to be there. One of the players on the scene is Duke Orlanko; being Minister of Information he is head of the secret police and Vhalnich hates him and intends to oppose him. He rightfully regards Orlanko as an enemy of the state.

The Princess Raesinia, the King’s only daughter is also dying. In fact, she dies in front of us at least twice. It seems that during her illness a few years back she caught a bad case of magic. In this universe, a spell is a demon and one was placed into the Princess’ body (by whom is a spoiler) and now she cannot die (or at least, not for long). She has put this to good(?) use in sneaking out of the palace: she climbs to the top floor of her tower, strips, and throws herself off. Once her body repairs itself she has a quick wash and a change of clothes provided by her scarily competent maid/bodyguard (who has secrets of her own) and then heads off into the city, where she is active in planning a revolution in the name of the people. Her brilliant speech-writing comes in very handy once they discover a mentally-challenged man who is a preternaturally brilliant speaker and hire him to their cause.

Winter, with whom we spent so much time in the last book, is glad to get back home. The Colonel has brought her and Captain d’Ivoire with him ahead of the rest of the troops, and while he has obviously got plans for her she intends to hold him to his promise to help her find Jane, her friend and first lover from the orphanage days. The Colonel promises to work on that, but first he has a job for her: to infiltrate a street gang (or secret society) on the docks, known as the Leatherbacks. Winter will have to disguise herself as a disaffected university student, many of whom, especially women, have apparently joined the Leatherbacks since the organization started up. The Colonel wants information only, so Winter shouldn’t have to resort to her martial training. Note that this means that Winter, a woman disguised as a man, will be believed in some quarters to now be disguising herself (himself) as a woman. At least there is no chance that Jane might be involved in some fashion with the Leatherbacks. Certainly, she won’t be their leader, so Winter should not have that to distract her.

Marcus d’Ivoire, a plainspoken man not well-suited to politics, is nonetheless not pushed to the background in this tale. Acting as the Colonel’s aide, he often finds himself charged with protecting the Princess, and equally often the target of Orlanko’s agents. He also learns something new, and distressing, about the fire that killed his family.

Wexler used the French Revolution as the template for this book, though the situation here is different enough that we can’t say for sure where things will go. There is also international politics playing its role, and religion . . . Vordan is basically Protestant and the Church intends to make the coming war a crusade.

Once again, Wexler does a fine job on all fronts: plot, pacing a characterisation. I haven’t more than touched on the minor characters, but everyone is well-drawn and interesting.

Overall, highly recommended.

Ayesha: the Return of She by H. Rider Haggard

Sequel to She (here). “She”, it should be pointed out, is short for “She Who Must Be Obeyed”, which was Ayesha’s title when last we saw her. She was also dying, leaving Horace Holly and Leo Vincey bereft. But a dream comes to Vincey just as he is about to give up on life, and leads the two of them to wandering around Asia for almost 20 years until at last they stumble upon the place he saw. Here they find a hidden valley, a city founded by an offshoot of Alexander the Great’s army, now long sinking into decadence. In the city is a queen who professes to love Vincey and to have loved him in previous lives; is she Ayesha reborn? Or is it the immortal priestess of “Hes”, a variant name for the goddess Isis, who has lived on the volcano above the city forever? Is it a coincidence that “Hes” is an anagram for “She”?

A good sequel, with rolicking action and long, non-boring, discussions. Haggard treats the asian locals (and the female characters) with surprising respect for a Victorian adventure tale writer. Recommended.

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