The Penitent Damned by Django Wexler (Short Story Review)
Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which is the first book in his flintlock military fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns, is one of my favourite reads of 2014 so far. It presents a bold new world, adds to the flintlock fantasy genre, and has some great characters, not to mention a great story of course. With the sequel, The Shadow Throne, supposed to be coming later this year in late summer, the wait to get back into this world is long of course, but fortunately I had a short story to tide me over. Released last year (on both Amazon and still available for free on geek site io9), the short story presents some new characters, but adds to the overall setting, and that is the charm of it.
In The Penitent Damnedi, we meet Alex, a thief in the Vordanai capital Vordan City. She is a completely different character to those that I read about in The Thousand Names, but she is no less impressive than either of them. She has some… special abilities, entirely fitting with the world that Django created in The Thousand Names, and the use of these powers and what follows from there is the driving force behind this short story. And we see some more, bigger, characters too, such as the Last Duke, who was a major behind-the-scenes villain of The Thousand Names. So, the setup for this story is pretty good!
Heist stories in fantasy are neither common nor rare. The increase in stories featuring thieves and assassins over the last decade, and even before that, means that this is a subgenre that is growing rapidly. There’s just something damn attractive about thieves in fantasy, not to mention the fact that thieves as characters have been around for much, much longer. I mean, if you think about it, The Hobbit is basically a heist story, what with Frodo hired to steal something from a Dragon’s hoard in an abandoned Dwarven hold. As such, I always enjoy a good heist story, and Django Wexler’s The Penitent Damned is no different.
As a fan of his Shadow Campaigns series with his first novel The Thousand Names, I dived into this short story with enthusiasm. I hadn’t read beforehand what the premise of it was, so I was prepared for anything. All I wanted was a story I could like, and a character who could wow me. And Django gave me both here, because Alex is the kind of thief I love reading about in fantasy. She has a great sarcastic wit, can crack a joke as easily as she can shimmy up a building, and she is utterly confident in her abilities because she is as good as she believes herself to be.
In many ways, Alex here reminded me of Jimmy the Hand, one of the most important protagonists of Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga, the trilogy that launched a multi-series franchise and made Raymond E. Feist one of the biggest names in fantasy. And also one of my favourites, on all counts. All the things that I loved reading about in Jimmy’s adventures is hinted and teased and shown in Alex’s mission to liberate something from the coffers of one of the Vordan elite.
Most of all, Django maintains a tense atmosphere start to finish because we know going in that the Last Duke, the most powerful man in the Vordan Empire and second only to the Emperor himself, knows that Alex is in town to pull off a job and he has already sicced his Concordat secret police on her. It really doesn’t get any better than this because we have a fantastic mystery and thriller and heist here.
Django’s writing is detailed and engaging, really pulling you into the world that he created for the novel and of which he showed a different slice in this short story. Reading through The Penitent Damned, I would love to see the Last Duke and Alex show up in the sequel to The Thousand Names. I think they are both wonderful characters who deserve to show up more. And most of all, I really want to see more of the Last Duke’s right hand man, Andreas, who is one of the seniormost officers of the Concordat and the agent assigned to dealing with Alex.
With a fantastic twist at the end, The Penitent Damned is one of the best short stories I’ve read to date. If there are any missteps, they are that occasionally the dialogue feels a little stilted and that pacing can be a bit off too. Other than that though, this was a fun and enjoyable read, and I want to read more such short stories from Django’s pen.
More Shadow Campaigns: The Thousand Names.
Posted on March 20, 2014, in Review Central, Short Story Reviews and tagged Black Magic, Concordat, Demons, Django Wexler, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Female Protagonists, Last Duke, magic, Review, Review Central, Short story, Short Story Review, The Shadow Campaigns, The Thousand Names, Thief. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.