Audio: 4.5 (very good)r/Fantasy Goodreads Group September Book Of The Month
I had planned on reading this novel before it was chosen as our BOTM, but that just gave me an extra excuse. It was another book like Brian McClellan's [b:Promise Of Blood|15790883|Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage, #1)|Brian McClellan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1350337505s/15790883.jpg|21512438] that the pre-hype got me excited for a new release from a new author, and the story sounded riveting. What I expected? I'm not sure - some battles, a lot of guns and shooting and some magic maybe. What did I get? A really gritty, military-centric romp with only subtle magic use until the ending when it became the focal point. In that way, it almost felt like two novels - a chronicling of a long military campaign juxtaposed with a tale of magical deceit and drama and a military Colonel with ulterior magical motives.
The book follows a handful of very interesting characters, the main being Winters, a female masquerading as a male soldier, who through a series of strange turns ends up as a lieutenant, tasked with leading a group of soldiers while fighting to keep her sex a secret. The other was Marcus, a captain who was sent to what normally amounted to a purgatory-type assignment, but one that turned quite interesting when a rebellion began, and Marcus and Winters found themselves in the midst of an epic battle. Winters fairly early on ends up saving a girl from the opposing side, one that turns out to be of the magical equation and ends up essentially turncoating to Winters' side by some weird mix of debt and Stockholm Syndrome (that was a joke).
Through the eyes of Winter and Marcus, we meet a wide array of characters, from a traitorous lover, to Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, a highly regarded leader who it turns out has a nearly insatiable desire to recover religious artifacts and relics from the enemy. Through this, the troops find themselves in the middle of a battle that seems quite difficult to win, and only some luck and magical intervention from an unlikely source get them out of it. The book ends on a mighty cliffhanger leading into the next book of the series, which bothers some people a lot more than it bothered me - I like some suspense at the end of books. It's revealed that there's a lot more going on than just a small-scale military situation in a remote location, that there is a lot of depth to this world that has yet to be revealed, things of a more political leaning.
I enjoyed the nitty-gritty of the military day to day life. Wexler captures a very realistic feeling military camp setting, down to the card games, bullies starting fights in camp, and the arguments amongst leadership. There's jealousy, deceit, misdirection; all things to add depth to a relatively small time and geographical picture. The characters feel real; they make logical decisions in general, the dialogue feels like it is indicative of things that would actually be said, rather than a means to an end, choice wording for the purpose of plot movement, or just an empty vessel to roll the story forward. I found the interactions between characters to be fun and flowing, the drama between them visceral and relatable.
I've read some reviews where people were put off by the hard military feel of the story, but it was appealing to me. What I expected to be a mildly military fantasy with some guns turned into a crazy hybrid of [b:The Black Company|140671|The Black Company (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #1)|Glen Cook|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1379150549s/140671.jpg|390334], [b:Promise of Blood|15790883|Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage, #1)|Brian McClellan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1350337505s/15790883.jpg|21512438] and something like [b:The Lions of al-Rassan|104101|The Lions of al-Rassan|Guy Gavriel Kay|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348007861s/104101.jpg|955081]. Military camp, guns, magic, politics, twists, turns, layers. I'll admit that the writing isn't perfect - there are times it felt a bit clumsy, times the plot came to a bit of a halt, and more than once a situation came up where the situation seemed impossible to get out of, and a seemingly arbitrary event occurred that bailed everyone out with seemingly serious injuries that they of course recovered completely from. These were a bit few and far between, so it's not a full complaint.
In the end, I really enjoyed this debut. While it's got aspects of a lot of other books, I'm yet to read a book that has quite this combination of settings, characters and military action. The magic system is yet to really be explored in depth, in my opinion, and was largely glossed over or just hinted at for the majority of the book, before coming a focal point when the military aspects were put on the back burner. I'm interested to see where Wexler takes the series going forward, what kind of politics come into play, what future military ventures they fit into things as this seems to be his forte. Either way, this is a successful debut, well-written and engaging, and a firm statement that Django is here and will be a strong player in the fantasy genre.