The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler. ★★★★
The Shadow Throne is the sequel to The Thousand Names, and compared to it’s predecessor, The Shadow Throne is more focused on political conspiracy than military action. With obvious inspiration taken from the French Revolution, The Shadow Throne depicts a country on the edge of disaster. The king is dying, and his only heir is his daughter Raesinia, who is a target for Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information, who wishes to control her and rule from the shadows. In the streets there is unrest and talk of rebellion as the population grows fed up with the tax policies. Meanwhile, Janus, Marcus, and Winter have returned to Vordan.
The Shadow Throne alternates chapters between Marcus, Winter, and Raesinia. All of these characters have goals of their own, even as they are thrust into new situations. Marcus wants to investigate the death of his family and finds himself placed by Janus as the head of the police. Winter wants to find her ex-girlfriend, Jane, but is ordered to go undercover in a mysterious gang led by women. Raesinia all the while is leading a double life – one as the heir to the throne with a dark secret that could destroy her if it is ever exposed, and the other as a member of a conspiracy to end the powerful grip the Duke Orlanko.
Something that really makes me love The Shadow Throne is the strength and presence of the female characters. Winter and Raesinia are both wonderful, and they are far from the only noteworthy female characters. There’s a teenage girl with a gift for economics, a skilled assassin and spy who’s on the run from her former masters, and all the members of the Leatherbacks, the previously mentioned mysterious gang. If you’re looking for a second world, epic fantasy novel with a variety of important female characters (including a lesbian POV character). I will note that the book falters when it comes to race since as far as I know all the characters are white.
I did miss the side characters from the first book, but I got accustomed to the new supporting cast quickly. Wexler has a real gift for creating likable characters. Raesinia in particular was an unexpected delight. A story about a princess who sneaks out to have a secret life among the commoners can become cliched real quickly, but it works in Raesinia’s case. I think this is largely because while Raesinia enjoys the ability the greater freedom and the friendships she makes, she is always out there with a purpose in mind. Raesinia is a shrewd politician who plans to rule as queen in her own right and be no one’s pawn.
I would have liked to see more about the discovery from the end of the previous book. Hopefully it will be picked up again in the next novel. However, The Shadow Throne did deal some more with the magic system of the world, which is based on demons bound to live inside people, and this area was generally strengthened and built up.
While The Shadow Throne is a fairly long book, it’s pacing and my excitement for it meant that I read it in less than twenty-four hours. I think I liked it even more than the first book, and I would recommend both of these to readers looking for epic fantasy with well written female characters.