What better book to start off the blog than the finale of The Shadow Campaigns series?
We pick up right where Guns of Empire left off, with Winter in the Mountains and Marcus and Raesinia back in Vordan. Our heroes soon receive word that Janus bet Valnich, who was meant to go into quiet retirement, has instead declared himself Emperor. Marcus and Raesinia scramble to prepare the army to face their former ally, and Winter plans a way to destroy the Beast of Judgment before it reaches Vordan city.
Before I get into any details, I would just like to point out that there are TEN (!!) queer characters featured in this book, and all well-developed with crucial roles in the story. The number is practically unheard of in “mainstream” adult fantasy and I wanted to squeal with joy. This needs to be the norm in the genre, especially with books that feature large casts, and Wexler has taken a huge step in the right direction.
With that said, let’s talk about what worked and what didn’t work in this finale.
We get a bit of everything in this book: large-scale battles, small skirmishes, political machinations, and intimate character moments.
Marcus I still found the most boring of the trio. It didn’t help that he no longer had Janus to bounce off of. My interest did perk up near the end with a surprise reveal that I did not at all anticipate. That brings me me to the biggest gripe I have with the series as a whole: while Marcus and Raesinia form and sustain a close relationship, they rarely interact with Winter beyond the occasional professional dialogue. Moments near the end would have been so much more emotionally-charged had they had a deeper relationship than “You’re my colleague.”
Raesinia’s storyline is a bit more proactive, but she unfortunately decides to embroil herself in economic skullduggery. There are only a couple of fantasy book that has managed to make economics interesting for me (or at least, not so rage-inducing), and this wasn’t one of them. But I’m sure many people will love it. She continues to remind us just why she’s fit to be Queen, as she navigates the politics of Vorsk and Vordan with grit and cunning.
Winter is, really, the star of the story. She journeys from the Mountains to Vordan, and the people she meets along the way are very interesting, as well as the internal crises she faces. She alone has the means to defeat the Beast, but her abilities never feel overpowered, and she requires the help (and sacrifice) of many others to complete her quest. Her character arc is one of my favorites in fantasy–from a girl running from her past to a leader and role model for other young women, it’s been a blast seeing her grow into herself.
Janus is tied with Winter as my favorite character of the series and he’s indisposed for most of the book, which is disappointing but understandable. We are, however, treated to his own POV chapters for the first time and they offer fascinating glimpses into the man. We also delve into Janus’ backstory–his unfortunate childhood and the identity of Mya–and they further reveal his motivations.
The final showdown is exciting and fraught with tension–pretty much everything I wanted –and Jane’s character was handled in a pleasantly surprising way.
All in all, this was a very satisfying ending to a great series. It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know these characters over the course of five books, and I’m proud of how far they’ve come. I’m crossing my fingers for another series set in the world, because the ending hints at a few things that might be brewing on the horizon.