Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu
*** The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered! ***
A review copy was provided by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands
Publisher: DAW (9/1/2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I love Epic Fantasy for many reasons, not least of which is the fact every book is a portal to a whole new world. But when you read as much as this genre as I do, you sure get to visit a lot of them. That is why, when every once in a while I come across a setting that truly stands out, I sit up and take note. And Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai made me do just that.
Right from the start I was captivated by the magnificent desert city of Sharakhai, where this novel takes place. Surrounded by a literal ocean of dust and sand, this political and cultural trade center attracts all manner of visitors. From merchants to dignitaries, they sail across the dunes in great sand-ships to treat with the city’s kings, twelve immortal men who have held power in Sharakhai since time immemorial. However, not all people are happy with their rule, and many remember the injustices wrought upon them by the kings and their ruthless agents.
The novel’s protagonist Çeda is one such individual. When she was eight years old, her mother was a rebel captured and executed by the kings, then hung from Sharakhai’s walls as a warning and example to other detractors. Çeda has sworn vengeance ever since. Now more than a decade has passed, and Çeda is still as determined as ever to take down the twelve kings, with the help of a book of cryptic writings left to her by her mother. Unlocking the book’s puzzles will not be easy though, and there are many questions about her own heritage that must be solved before Çeda can bring the fight to her enemies.
So many thoughts filled my mind when I finished this book, I’m not even sure where to begin. Beaulieu weaves a complex tale of intrigue, employing devices like flashbacks and bringing in other characters points-of-view to great effect. In many ways, Çeda’s story plays out almost like a mystery plot, following her on a journey to uncover clues about the twelve kings’ weaknesses while also revealing details about her own past and the secrets her mother kept from her. Flashback chapters are generally tricky to pull off, but I was impressed with the way they were done here, inserted at precisely the best moments to emphasize important events in the characters’ lives.
Çeda is also a wonderful main character, one of the best female protagonists I have encountered in years. We open the novel with a scene from the fighting pits, where she is a competitor in the tourney. Right after a phenomenal combat sequence which ends with Çeda serving her opponent his ass on a platter, she then goes on to engage in an intensely passionate tryst with the fighting pit’s owner. If all this was part of Beaulieu’s attempt to capture the reader’s attention right off the bat, well, it certainly worked on me! More importantly though, I got the sense that Çeda is her own woman. She does what she wants but she’s also smart about it, and she is committed to her goals and utterly loyal to those she cares about.
The story also introduces several more major characters, first of which is Emre – Çeda’s childhood friend, partner in crime, and brother of her heart. As Çeda’s mission takes her down one path, Emre’s involvement with the underground resistance takes him down another, leading the two friends to drift apart. But what I love about this story is that nothing about it is black and white, and there’s much more to it than simply good versus evil. The twelve kings may be ruthless and cruel, but the rebels – a group calling themselves the Moonless Host – are far from innocent themselves, employing methods that are just as bloody and destructive. The relationship dynamics between Emre and Çeda become a focal point when the two of them end up on opposite sides, fighting for the same cause while driven by different forces. Throw in a third faction, Ramahd and Meryam of the Qaimiri delegation, and it gets even more difficult to tell friend from foe. As with the best and most realistic stories of fluid loyalties and political intrigue, there is absolutely nothing clear-cut about the situation and the plot will keep you wondering who’s an enemy and who’s an ally every step of the way.
While Beaulieu never stops challenging his characters, the world building in this novel is where his skills really shine. The many distinct cultures that feature in the pages of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai provided a diverse setting, which is further fleshed out by its rich history, religions, and various magic systems. The many sights and sounds of the city are brought to life by the stunningly detailed descriptions of important locales, from the decadent halls of the Tauriyat to the blooming fields of adichara plants in the surrounding desert. The world-building also made up for the slower pacing of the first half of the novel, because there were just so many wonderful things to take in.
All told, the payoff was definitely worth it. A promising start to a new series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai offers readers a glimpse into Bradley P. Beaulieu’s talent for storytelling as well as his emerging role as a master world-builder. With its many different peoples and cultures, Sharakhai’s desert setting was utterly spellbinding. I also found myself enthralled by the plot’s combination of adventure and intrigue, along with the richness and depth of the characters. Books like this keep the epic fantasy genre fresh and diversified, and I am very excited to see what the future holds for The Song of the Shattered Sands series.
TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI GIVEAWAY
Interested in the book? Now here’s your chance to win it. The publisher has very generously offered The BiblioSanctum an opportunity to host a giveaway for one print copy of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. With apologies to international readers, this giveaway is US only. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to email@example.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “TWELVE KINGS” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Thursday, September 10, 2015.
Only one entry per household, please. Entrants must be 18 or older. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!