I’ve written briefly about Django Wexler’s series the Shadow Campaigns. It was a book I picked up one day in Powell’s because the cover looked dope. I poured through if over a couple days and was immediately hooked on the series.
Last week I finished the final book in the series: The Infernal Battalion. It was an excellent conclusion to an excellent series and you should absolutely pick up the first book.
The pitch: it’s a fantasy story set in the nineteenth century. Flintlock rifles and cannons dominate the theater of war. Our story begins in the country of Khandar where an army known as the Colonials have been stationed. The country of Khandar hides much beneath it’s great deserts, and a man shows up to take control of the army, and seek a dangerous relic—the Thousand Names.
Fuck—I just like, re-psyched myself up for the first book.
But instead, the last book, The Infernal Battalion.
What Django always does is set the tone and the direction of the book in a clear manner, and within the first couple chapters. This might sound obvious, books need these things, but his books never speak at length and they never stray away from the central premise.
Many of the books I read fancy themselves grand fantasies that plan on unraveling their many threads over the course of several books, and it leaves some of the middle books far weaker than others because they were a holdover—a book meant to connect threads and fill space. But not Django’s—he writes grand fantasies, but still remembers that each book needs to be a useful, interesting read. The Infernal Battalion was the conclusion to his grand fantasy, while being it’s own book on contrast to the others. It had it’s own story you followed along, but it also wrapped up threads from three or four books ago.
I love each individual character and I can tell you at length who they are and why. They feel real. I was deeply invested in their arcs! It was so weird to think back to the first book and see where they started. Winter Ihernglass in the deserts of Khandar, serving under captain Marcus d’Ivoire. They meet Janus bet Vhalnich, the strange but brilliant man sent to Khandar to bring the conflict to a close. From these three we rapidly meet an ever growing cast of characters, each important to the story and fleshed out in due time. And no single character goes to waste! As the last book progresses you see that nearly each character, no matter how small, ends up having a role to play in how it all comes to a close.
So many times I was just mouth agape as I realized that this nobody character isn’t even just useful but things would not have been the same without them. Django is a mastermind of story—he plots the courses for his books with the reader in mind as much as the story. He knows how to subtly let characters fall from your mind and then brings them back just as you were forgetting they were players.
This book stressed me out—and it’s so damn satisfying! Django knows not to let death and sacrifice become common place. Django knows a very dangerous secret: if he wants us to feel sad that someone is gone we need to love them first. The winding and dangerous journeys the characters go on left me guessing until very nearly the end. Nothing is sacred, and it makes the ups really powerful, and the downs really meaningful. You can’t help buy play into his hands as you desperately reach for the comforts of cliche, but then he wrenches it away from you with situations far more real than you were ready for.
The same feeling can be said about the story itself! Each book is it’s own book, but you begin to look back and it feels like the first book was a decade ago. You think to yourself, “this story used to be so much smaller,” but you realize that you never even noticed anything changed. It’s all one story, but deftly cut up into five, deeply satisfying books.
There isn’t a lot more I can say without talking about the plot of the book. But I’ll tell you now—if you enjoy military fantasy, demons and magic, and really deep, lovable characters (and their sex lives)—you need to read these books.