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Monday, August 24, 2015

Guest Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu (Reviewed by A.E. Marling)


Official Author Website 
Order Twelve Kings In Sharakhai HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Winds Of Khalakovo 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Strata 
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Bradley P. Beaulieu

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Bradley P. Beaulieu is a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award, while his short story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat”, was voted a Notable Story in the 2006 Million Writers Award. Other stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: If you’d like a vacation with sand surfing and sipping rosewater lemonade, read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu. The desert-city setting will treat you to a banquet of caramel onions, kumquats, and paprika eggplant. You’ll hear music begin at night then spread in a chain reaction of sound as neighbors join the melody. In the arena, people scream in excitement when a viper winds its way between a combatant’s legs, signaling who will fight first.

Enjoy the city, but beware the desert. A god of sands and bleached bones roams here. His monstrous children prowl the dunes. Worse things than hyenas cackle in the distance. Black laughers, they’re called. That gut-loosening drone comes from stinging swarms of rattlewings. And resist the fragrance of the twisted tree. Its petals taste of divinity, but the poison of its thorns spreads blue death through the flesh.

An even more memorable tree can be found in the garden of the desert witch. Chimes ring in the branches of this acacia. Look up and see the future reflected between its boughs. A young girl, Ceda, does this, and she witnesses herself bowing before a king and receiving his ebon sword. She watches herself betraying her mother’s dreams of rebellion. All is not well in Sharakhai.

The Reaping King stalks the streets. He decides who’ll be taken on the next night when the two moons are full. Then the soul hunters come. Some people think it a blessing to be chosen, an honor to be sacrificed. Most still cower on the Night of the Reaping. When Ceda is caught outside and faces a hunter it smells like “a charnel, but there were faint notes of fruit like fig and plum, which made it all the worse.”

The reaper doesn’t drag her out into the desert. It kisses her brow then leaves her free. Ceda is fated in a way she doesn’t understand. Her mother raised her as a political tool. Now Ceda fights in the pits wearing the mask of the White Wolf. She runs errands for a smuggler. She bides her time until she can fulfill an oath made to her executed mother, to kill all the kings.

Her mother left her a cryptic book of poems. They speak of the twisted trees and the kings. Ceda wishes to learn more of the night they made a pact with the gods for the strength to protect their city. The kings became immortal, each with his own terrible power. The tribes of the Moonless Host would love to plunder Sharakhai. They’re only held back by the ruthlessness of the kings.


Twelve eyes taken for every blinded nobleman. Twenty-four citizens killed for every murdered guard. Thus is the kings’ justice. They rule through the power of their night reapers and their Blade Maidens. The latter are elite guards who wield ebon swords. The curved weapons are like “wicked smiles” and “pieces of night.”

Ceda might be closer to fulfilling her oath if she could be accepted into the Blade Maidens. Foretellings aside, this seems insane. The Jade-Eyed King can also see the future; the maidens are connected by a mystical bond; and the King of Whispers is always listening. How could Ceda hope to deceive them all?

You know, Ceda, one of these days, there’ll be no one around to protect you from yourself,” says Emre, her lifelong friend. He and Ceda have a nuanced relationship. Secrets are shared and withheld. Lives are saved. Feelings are hurt. Awkward sex is regretted. While she seeks to infiltrate the kings’ palaces, he works to burn them all down from the outside. She doesn’t approve of his methods, and he feels the same of hers. The perspective of the story changes from Ceda, to Emre, to the Honey-Tongued King, to Ramahd, who has his own oath to kill Emre’s master. Ramahd’s sister-in-law drinks wine mixed with her own blood, but her true vice is vengeance. She summons desert demons and doesn’t much care what her brother-in-law thinks.

Many characters begin their arcs. Much discord is sewn into the story, but little is resolved in this book, the first of The Song of the Shattered Sands. The series title is beautiful to the point of breathtaking, as are many of the names written by Bradley P. Beaulieu. However, readers who wish for a complete tale may be dissatisfied with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Despite the book’s length of around six hundred pages, it feels like only the first third of a story.

Impatient readers who still wish to enjoy the desert city have recourse, though the suggestion will offend completionists. Certain chapters can be skipped. Each one begins with a beautiful illustration identifying the viewpoint character. Ceda’s is portrayed by the flower of the twisted tree. The blossom is open or closed, depending on whether the chapter is in the present or a flashback. The narrative progresses further backward into Ceda’s history than forward toward her goal of fighting the kings.

Nothing makes me hate a character more than reading a hundred pages of her history. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed Twelve Kings in Sharakhai more if I’d read less. Readers of the same opinion should consider beginning the book on chapter four, which bears the closed flower of a flashback. It also features the witch’s chime garden, and the sensual writing captured me. At that point there was no escape. I was lost in the story, but I could’ve taken a more direct route to the end by skipping all Ceda’s following flashback chapters as well as those of alternate perspectives. The chapters with open blossoms advanced the plot. The others, not so much.

Is this reading suggestion an abomination? Absolutely, but I like to think the kings would approve. Many veterans of epic fantasy need not follow my advice. All the pages mean nothing to them, and they’ll delight in the setting. They will, however, run aground of a disturbing scene in a flashback chapter where Ceda receives a tattoo against her will. The men in her life tend to leave her skin bruised or worse.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to ride a sand ship out from the city. My surfing board is polished, and the dunes call.

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GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: A.E. Marling is a fantasy writer, dancer, law-abiding citizen, human being (in that order). Discover his fantasy-appreciation blog and follow him on Twitter, @AEMarling, or the kitty gets it.

1 comments:

Stephen W. Gee said...

I remember seeing this book when the cover was revealed on B&N (I believe), but that setting ... wow. I may be able to slog through a bunch of flashbacks (because yes, I'm too much of a completionist to take your likely prudent advice) to experience those deserts and that city.

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