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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“The Winds of Khalakovo” by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Bradley P. Beaulieu Website
Order “The Winds of KhalakovoHERE
Read the First Fifteen Chapters HERE (ePub) or HERE (PDF)
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

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. The Winds of Khalakovo is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...

FORMAT/INFO: The Winds of Khalakovo is 464 pages long divided over two Parts and sixty-seven numbered chapters. Also includes a Dramatis Personae and maps of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya and the Duchy of Khalakovo. Narration is in the third person via Prince Nikandr Iaroslov Khalakovo; his lover, the Aramahn Rehada Ulan al Shineshka; and Nikandr’s betrothed, Princess Atiana Radieva Vostroma. The Winds of Khalakovo is somewhat self-contained, concluding the novel’s major storylines, but it is the first of three planned books in The Lays of Anuskaya series. April 2011 marks the Trade Paperback publication of The Winds of Khalakovo via Night Shade. Cover art provided by Adam Paquette.

ANALYSIS: It’s hard to come up with anything original anymore, especially in epic fantasy, but Bradley P. Beaulieu makes a valiant effort in his debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo.

What immediately distinguishes The Winds of Khalakovo is the setting, which features a Grand Duchy heavily influenced by Czarist Russia, complete with Russian names, Russian language (nyet, da, nischka), Russian clothing (cherkesska, ushanka), Russian military (streltsi, sotnik, desyatnik), Russian weapons (berdische axes, shashkas) and Russian traditions. Besides the Russian influence, there’s also an Arabian flavor with the monk-like Aramahn—the archipelago’s native people—who also possess Buddhist qualities like their belief in reincarnation, while the elementals (earth, air, fire, water, and the raw stuff of life) the Aramahn are able to control seem inspired by Greek mythology and Hinduism. Windships, soulstones—stones given at birth that hold the essence of a person’s life—firearms (muskets, cannons, flintlock pistols) and those who can navigate the aether are thrown into the mix as well, creating a fantasy world that may seem familiar because of its individual components, but is unique and refreshing because of the unconventional combination.

Woven into this fabulous milieu is a story made up of intriguing court politics (arranged marriages, coups, war and betrayal among the duchies), moving personal drama (tangled love triangles, dying from an incurable wasting disease), relevant topical issues (food shortages/riots caused by the blight, the Maharraht religious splinter group), and sweeping adventure involving a boy caught between the spiritual & physical realms of Adhiya & Erahm, and a rift in the aether that could destroy the world. Much the way he did with the novel’s setting, Bradley P. Beaulieu takes a bunch of familiar elements and combines them in such a way to create a story that feels new and exciting. This feeling is aided in part by brisk pacing and unpredictable plot developments, like the novel’s tragic and unhappy ending.

The real key to the story’s success though, is with the three main characters: Prince Nikandr Iaroslov Khalakovo; his lover, the Aramahn whore Rehada Ulan al Shineshka; and Nikandr’s betrothed, Princess Atiana Radieva Vostroma. Nikandr is arguably the novel’s most important character because of his unique connection to the boy Nasim who lies at the center of all the book’s major plotlines—the wasting disease, the blight, the rift, the war, etc.—but Rehada and Atiana are more interesting. Rehada because of the revenge she harbors for her daughter, the love she feels for Nikandr even though he represents what she hates, and the dangerous tightrope she walks between Maharraht/Aramahn philosophy, while Atiana intrigues because of her ability to navigate the aether, the difficult choices she has to make between her family and Nikandr’s, and the complicated relationship she develops with her rival, Rehada. All three characters though possess likable personalities, evolve realistically over the course of the novel, and help anchor the story’s more fantastic moments with compelling intimate concerns.

Negatively, supporting characters are one-dimensional; action scenes are sometimes clumsily executed, requiring additional rereads to fully grasp what happened; and the world-building is thin with only a few sentences devoted to concepts like the Aramahn & Maharraht, hezhan (elementals), the aether, soulstones, Adhiya/Erahm, etc., making it difficult to understand things that are integral to the novel. Like an Aramahn’s bond with a hezhan, the different kinds of hezhan, the purpose of soulstones, why only certain people can navigate the aether, and so on. Plus, Nasim’s history and connection with Ghayavand, Muqallad, Sariya, Nikandr and the Maharraht could have been explained much better, especially considering the boy’s importance.

For the most part though, I was impressed by the skill and creativity displayed by Bradley P. Beaulieu in his debut. In particular, I enjoyed the author’s accessible writing style, was drawn to his compelling main characters, and found the novel’s unique setting and unpredictable story refreshing and exciting. In short, Bradley P. Beaulieu is another terrific addition to the Night Shade lineup, while The Winds of Khalakovo is one of the year’s better fantasy debuts...


Elfy said...

Nightshade do put out quality work. I'll be keeping an eye out for this, although there are some negatives in this review I felt the positives outweighed them and I like to see anything that attempts a more original setting and pulls it off with any success.

Robert said...

I love Night Shade :) I purchase just about everything they produce, so I'm probably a little biased, but The Winds of Khalakovo really is a great book. I hope you get a chance to check it out Elfy!


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