The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler. ★★★★1/2
The last book in Wexler’s Shadow Campaign series, The Infernal Battalion doesn’t disappoint.
Look. I can’t talk about The Infernal Battalion without talking about the previous books. The series starts with The Thousand Names, and it only improves from there. It’s a military fantasy series that is super great about including queer characters and female characters, and I love it a lot even though military fantasy isn’t really my subgenre. If that sounds appealing, I suggest you check out my review of the first book. Spoilers for the series will follow in the rest of this review.
If you don’t remember, the book before this, The Guns of Empire, ended on one heck of a cliff hanger. The Beast, a demon that can spread itself by taking over people’s minds, has gotten free of its prison. And it has seized the mind of Janus, the military general who was possibly humanity’s best hope for defeating it. Of course, most people don’t know that the Beast is actually real, let alone that it’s escaped its prison and is quickly enacting its desires for world domination. Winter is the only one who can possibly destroy it once and for all, and she’s stuck up north, far away from her allies in Vordan. She needs to reach them, even as the Beast is determined to see her annihilated.
Meanwhile Raesinia and Marcus are struck by unexpected news: Janus has declared himself the rightful emperor of Vordan and is forming an army to march against them. Marcus might wonder if Janus is in his right mind (and wow, he really has no idea), but what can he do but prepare to face him. While Marcus is readying troops, Raesinia goes abroad in search of much needed aid.
It’s fitting that the stakes are highest in the last book of a series. And oh, boy does The Infernal Battalion ever deliver. The Beast sort of reminds me of zombies in the way it spreads itself so quickly. Only, unlike zombies, the Beast isn’t mindless. Which makes it that much more intimidating. After all, there are no higher stakes than the fate of the world. The Infernal Battalion is a super intense, heart-in-mouth read. A couple times I had to step away when I felt myself getting too stressed! I’ve seen other reviews complaining about Raesinia’s chapters being slower paced, but I don’t see that as a failing. Raesinia’s political intrigue gave me a chance to breath and recover from the “live or die” drama of the other chapters.
It’s easy to become invested in a book when you care strongly about the characters. I love the characters of the Shadow Campaigns. Marcus actually has a great arc, and he’s a character I’ll be pointing to whenever “sexism as a character flaw” comes into discussion (Foz Meadows has an essay about it and the Shadow Campaigns, FYI). Basically, he’s learning that chivalry isn’t actually a good thing and that he needs to resist urges towards it. Raesinia continues to come into her own as a Queen and political figure, and Winter grapples with the responsibility of command and feeling like she’s the cause of people around her dying. It’s a bit melodramatic, but it’s probably a pretty natural response to the situations she’s been in. Oh, and Marcus still thinks Winter’s a man and people are still sort of half-heartedly pretending for his sake. Don’t worry, this gets resolved… I just can’t believe I waited five books for it!
I’ve talked about this in all my other reviews of the series, but I love the Shadow Campaign’s female characters. They are well written, capable, interesting, and plentiful. Also, a number of them are queer, which is even better. Winter, our badass lesbian lead, is practically the Chosen One here, the only hope of fighting the Beast. And she interacts with so many other awesome women! There’s a point in the book were they need to assemble an A-team of badasses and it ends up being all women. I don’t think it’s even commented on — they’re just the most obvious choices.
Going into The Infernal Battalion, I was scared this book would end up betraying me. Namely, I was worried about it turning into a queer tragedy where Winter would die while Marcus and Raesinia lived happily ever after. That would hurt a lot, especially since I’ve been recommending this series when people ask for queer fantasy novels. However, in the end, I feel like The Infernal Battalion does right by Winter and its other queer characters, and I’m so glad my trust wasn’t misplaced.
I really love this series. Yes, it has it’s flaws (it’s really really white for one thing), but it also just gives me so much of what I want in a very well executed way. I get feelings when an all female team goes and does something badass, and that’s a staple of this series! While I’m sad this series is over, I’m glad I got to be along for the ride.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.