Twelve Kings in Sharakhai -Bradley Beaulieu
(Shattered Sands #1) Followed by Of Sand and Malice made (Released 6th September 2016)
UK Publisher – Orion
Imprint – Gollancz
Pages – 592
Date Released – 3rd September 2015
Signed Copies – The Quill & Claw £22
Unsigned – Amazon £16.59 (As of 6/4/16)
ISBN – 9781473203006
Length of time to read – 5 Days
Favourite Character – Çeda
Other Comments – Best Fantasy Book of 2015
Bradley Beaulieu is an author I knew very little about up until about a week ago, twelve kings was brought to my attention by bookstore Quill and the Claw. Both the cover & synopsis grabbed my attention, particularly the UK cover of the female figure holding 2 shamshirs surrounded by an arch of thorns, entering a light ready for battle.
Twelve Kings is a fast paced action fantasy adventure set in a world, which has the feel of an ancient Persian civilisation with a touch of Agrabah. Where?
During the day, the town & markets are buzzing with culture, the fighting pits are brutal and busy for pride, betting and entertainment.
Whilst night times particularly the holy nights of Beht Zha’ir belong to the kings, their blade maidens and the asirim, only death will greet any in their path.
‘The noise of the spice market swept over Çeda like a sudden summer sandstorm. It was raucous and biting after the quiet of the streets near her home. Hundreds of stalls occupied the great old building-one of the oldest in Sharakhai-a ramshackle mix of patchwork colors, milling patrons, and heated barter.’
Its in the pits we meet the protagonist, she is a pit fighter under a hidden alias ‘The White Wolf’, a fighter unbeaten for many years, her appearance brings a mass of excitement and chants from the eager crowd who would rarely bet against her.
‘Once, when he lifted his head too far away, she crashed her forehead against his. The lip of her helm left a long cut against his skin. Blood seeped down his forehead, along his nose. It pattered against her steel mask, filling her nostrils with the smell of it.’
When she removes her mask she is another face in a crowd, a pawn in a game ruled by the kings. The kings who slaughtered her mother when she was a child, finding her hung from her ankles, naked with her throat cut in public for all to see, including herself. Her name is Çeda, now grown but still grieving over the loss of her mother, that very night making a vow of revenge.
‘I am coming for you, one and all,’
She will need recollect her past and to the visions in the chimes to see her future path and help her find clues and solve the encrypted puzzles left by her mother. Her only person she can trust is lifelong friend Emre who have one of those best friend relationships who are not a ‘couple’ but hate to see each other with anyone else. You know a bit like Mulder & Skully in the X Files (Yes, get a room.)
Although even Emre now seems to have his own agenda in the war against the kings & secrets between the 2 are growing.
Çeda does have little magic up her sleeve in the way of Adichara petals although the risk of the blade maidens and the asirim
‘The thing had long emaciated arms and legs, and its head looked too large for its body. Its hair was stringy and hung in matted clumps about its shoulders’
Big Trouble in Little China?
Whilst travelling to the blooming fields is too many a suicide mission, it is something that makes her feel close to her mother. This is my favourite aspect of the story as the visions BB conjures up with his imagination is a wonder and is actually quite subtle but spectacular fantasy twist in a world which could in fact be totally plausible. Although I feel to go into this in any depth would ruin much of the fun. The mini fables about the gods within her mother’s book are charmingly creative and a wonder to read.
‘twisted and wickedly thorned trees that only spread their flowers to the face of the twin moons.’
The kings themselves are not by any means easy targets living in palace above the city protected by their highly trained skilled assassins, dressed in thawb and veil the blade maidens who protect their kings with their lives.
‘The maiden had been doused so heavily by the splashing oil she lit like a newborn sun, but she didn’t follow her king. By Goezhens sweet kiss, she knelt down and replaced the stone shed worked free to allow his escape.’
The kings need the protection as others are also seeking revenge for losses including an extremist tribe called Al’afwa Khadar ‘The Moonless Host’ formed from the 12 tribes that used to rule the desert.
Çeda’s character is the predominant pov throughout the book bar a few chapters that works really well for me; we get to learn about her in great depth enabling the reader to build a strong attachment to her. The author has done a great job in adding a strong female cast with Çeda, the blade maidens & Saliah (a witch) with parts that in other books may have been given to male characters. Yet for me this has no effect whatsoever on a target gender & if anything I would hope it will encourage more female epic fantasy readers. It has been a great couple of years for female protagonists, when you take into consideration Paige (The Bone Season) Wydrin (The Copper Promise) Lila (A Darker Shade of Magic.) Renna (The Skull Throne) Laia (An Ember in the Ashes.) Really strong, independently minded and lets face it attractive women taking on the toughest foes fantasy can conjure. It certainly makes a change from a world normally dominated by unshaven brutes with hairy chests, stinking of body odour.
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Lets face it the artistry of the moves Çeda and the Blade Maidens are capable of could only be carried by the ladies, with some good gymnast training and maybe a bit of ballet. The skills Mr Beaulieu puts on show in Twelve Kings is electrifying, the movements are precise to the point where blocking a swipe to the neck that will not in fact kill you would be frowned upon as cowardly. Only the quickest, bravest and smartest will survive this battle.
I have read this for NetGalley as an eBook Advanced Reading Copy, I would hope for maps inside the Hardcopy just to put the places into perspective a little better, as well as a list of the kings as I feel you rarely get close enough to them in the book to familiarise yourself with them as characters and differentiate. I hope to learn more about them in detail in Book 2.
If they are not present in the hardcopy, this list I have compiled that may come in handy:
Chail – The King of Truth
Ihsan – The Honey Tongued King
Zeheb – The King of Whispers
Kiral – The King of Kings
Husamettin – The King of Swords
Yusam – The Jade Eyed-King
Sukru – The Reaping King
Azad – The King of Thorns
Kulasan – The Wondering King
Besir – The King of Shadows or The King of Coin
Onur – The King of Spears or The Feasting King
Mesut – The Jackal King & The Lord of the Asirim
I would have also liked to seen a bit more insight into Çeda training the children of Roseridge for some light hearted sword training as it is mentioned but not elaborated on in anyway.
Overall this is a incredulously well thought out Fantasy Adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, turning pages and keeping you up late into the night. It flows enticingly, with ease, for a story with so much detail and depth. Not at one point was I bored but allured as these pages are full of twists and unexpected turns, mini cliff hangers that keep you on the edge of your seat, mystery that keeps you intrigued and your mind ticking and failing that a good old scrap in the pits.
The best thing about this book is that when reach the end you realise that in fact this whole story has only just begun.
The best fantasy release of 2015 (so far), this should top the charts.
If you do pre-order a hardcopy make sure you send your confirmation to a link on quillings.com (Bradley’s site) for some fr-ee-bookies.
Highly Recommended for fans of The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett
A little bit about the author – Bradley Beaulieu is the acclaimed author of THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO trilogy, and has been singled out as a writer to watch, having honed his craft working with authors including Holly Black, Tim Powers and Nancy Kress. He lives and works in the US, and you can follow @bbeaulieu on twitter and website http://quillings.com