Twelve Kings In Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Book Review)
Author Bradley P. Beaulieu is one of my favourite writers in recent years, thanks to his 2012 debut The Winds of Khalakovo from Night Shade Publishing. It was a pretty good year for the publisher, and we got lots of great debuts at the time, not the least of which was this incredible Russian-esque fantasy from Brad, which told an epic struggle between several noble families navigating the politics of the land. It was a very refreshing read for someone like me who grew up reading the more traditional fantasy settings, and Brad’s style in particular was one of the selling points as well. I have yet to read the third and final novel in the trilogy but after having just read Brad’s latest, I certainly itch to read more of his work, so soon perhaps.
Twelve Kings In Sharakhai is the first novel in Brad’s new series, The Song of The Shattered Sands. It is a very different novel in almost all sorts of ways, and that distinction certainly helps in the enjoyment of the book, though that is by no means the only thing. The setting is far grander this time, I think, for it deals with the past having an effect on the present and what that can mean to the future. The sins of old come to bite back, and it is up to a young girl named Çedamihn to challenge the authority of the Twelve Kings and have her vengeance on those who have wronged her and her family.
Where before Brad tackled Russian epic fantasy, this time around he has tapped the rich Arabian Nights traditions and used them as the building blocks of his new setting, The Song of The Shattered Sands. Throughout the novel, these traditions and these references are echoed again and again, and it is pretty good to read something so…. non-mainstream. After all, most fantasy novels out there deal with Western cultures in one way or another. You’ll find precious few of them that dare to step out of that comfort zone and do something different. Authors such as Brad himself, Aliette de Bodard, Teresa Frohock, Courtney Schafer and Adrian Tchaikovsky do things very differently than the norm, and that’s one of the reasons why I love their works as much as I do.
The star of Twelve Kings is a young 19-year old girl named Çedamihn who spends her days as a gladiator in one of the many fighting pits of the City of Sharakhai and often doubles up as a message-runner for some unsavoury folks during nights. As the pages turn and more of the world is revealed, we learn more and more about her, such as her history with the city, her silent one-sided feud with the Twelve Kings, her ambitions and desires, her motivations and her relationships. Her mother died when Çeda was young and she never knew her father, so she grew up on the streets and has risen high from her humble beginnings. She is quite the contrast to Prince Nikandr, who was the hero of the Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, and is from a completely different world in all respects, though their struggles are similar in that they must fight against and challenge their respective governing authorities to find their own selfs and make their own way in a world that doesn’t really care about them all that much.
Every chapter of this novel adds to the overall experience. We learn a lot about the culture of Sharakhai, such as how being the premier city in a desert land home to twelve other tribes has shaped and sculpted it over the years into what it is now. We learn many of the oral histories of the city’s founding, and the struggles that its founders fought to keep its sovereignty. We learn of the moods and attitudes of its people, and how all of that shapes and sculpts Çeda herself, as well as her friends and acquaintances. We learn more of the terrible dangers that surround the city and endanger its citizens, dangers such as an army of undead-like abominations that haunt the city every few weeks and steal away select citizens for some unknowable purpose.
Twelve Kings is not a novel I would have expected to enjoy some three years ago, but with all the stuff I’ve read since, my viewpoint has certainly changed. It is the kind of novel that I wish I could read more of. It is an utterly fascinating read that delves into its characters’ identities and their fears and triumphs and what makes them tick. Çeda is not the only character here of course, and we have players from across the setting, characters such as Çeda’s friend Emre, a fellow former street-urchin, and Ramahd, a leader among one of the many tribes that call the deserts home and who ends up having a major impact on the storyline about midway through. But the biggest character in the story is perhaps Çeda’s dead mother Ahya, with her shadow being cast upon her daughter even beyond death. Our young hero wants vengeance for her mother’s death, and her sights are set on destroying everything that the Twelve Kings who rule Sharakhai call their own.
There is plenty of action in the novel, but it is also has a serious and philosophical edge to it as well. With Çeda being a gladiator, we get to see some amazing fight scenes in which she both wins and loses, but we also get to see her softer side, when she is with her friends or in the flashbacks to her younger days when her mother was still alive. We learn of the dreams and hopes that Emre and Çeda have, and what these dreams and hopes mean for them. But above all that, the novel is also about kickstarting a revolution the likes of which has not been seen in Sharakhai ever, and also what this revolution really means for its people and for its future.
Perhaps the greatest thing here is how Arabian-esque the novel is, from the daily rituals of the people to the names of the characters and locations and the names of certain significant days of the week and so on. On that front, I feel that Brad has done a very good job and he should certainly be applauded for it, because he has paid homage to the inspiration behind Song of The Shattered Sands, but has also crafted a setting that stands on its own two feet and doesn’t need any “real-world” support. In that, it is just like any other traditional fantasy setting I suppose, in that they are all inspired by real-world systems, but do something different nonetheless. It is simply that the source and the scope are non-traditional.
In closing, I would definitely recommend Twelve Kings In Sharakhai to readers. The novel is perhaps a bit heavier on the word-count and could undoubtedly have been trimmed further to provide a more compact experience, but all the same, it is also one of the best books I’ve read this year, no doubt about that. And it is the kind of novel that makes you want to read the next installment immediately, but of course, we won’t get the sequel until around the same time next year. And I’ll be hoping that I can remember enough by then!
Oh and also, the cover art is beautiful. It is done by Adam Paquette, who also did the cover for Brad’s The Winds of Khalakovo, and is just as awesome, if not more so. The grandeur of Sharakhai is certainly there, as is the representation of Çeda keeping an eye on the Twelve Kings from her lowly perch in the city.
Posted on September 2, 2015, in 2015 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged 2015 Reading Challenge, Adam Paquette, Arabian Fantasy, Arabian Nights, Çedamihn, Book Review, Bradley P. Beaulieu, DAW Books, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Female Protagonists, Female Warriors, High Fantasy, Non-Anglophone Fantasy, Non-Western Fantasy, Rebellion, Review, Review Central, Sharakhai, The Lays of Anuskaya, The Song of Shattered Sands, Twelve Kings, Twelve Kings In Sharakhai, Warrior Women, Women In Epic Fantasy, Women in Fantasy, Women in SFF. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.