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“In the Village Where Brightwine Flows” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands has rapidly taken its place as one of my favorite fantasy series. Its central character, Ҫeda, is a gladiator seeking to bring down the brutal rulers of her desert city. Along the way, she interacts with a number of other interesting characters: the arena owner (and smuggler) Osman, her childhood friend Emre, the apothecary Dardzada, and the scholar Davud, just to name a few. Unlike the other entries in the series, the novella In the Village Where Brightwine Flows shines its spotlight on one of these secondary characters.

Dardzada the apothecary raised Ҫeda after her mother’s death. In this story, he has to put his chosen professor aside to become an investigator when the son of a prominent nobleman turns up dead. I enjoyed seeing Dardzada interact with someone other than Ҫeda, and it was interesting to see aspects of Sharakhani intrigue that don’t revolve around the main plot of the novels.

The stories in the Shattered Sands series have gradually given the readers more insight into the culture and politics of the nations that surround the Great Shangazi Desert. Of Sand and Malice Made gave us a look at the Kundhunese social structure and religion, while With Blood Upon the Sand took us into the heart of Qaimir. Brightwine continues to expand the setting by setting a chunk of its tale in a neighborhood of Sharakhai settled by Mirean expatriates. We’re introduced to traditional Mirean medicine and a Mafia-like organization known as the Jade Masks. This further broadening of horizons is one of the things that made the novella enjoyable.

The next novel in the series, A Veil of Spears, is due out next spring, and Brightwine left me wondering whether a couple of new plot threads for that story were being set up here. The Jade Masks seem to be well-served by the status quo—will that put them at odds with the Moonless Host? Will Dardzada’s brother, a sinister captain in the Silver Spears, show up again to make trouble? Will we be seeing more action set in the Mirean quarter of Sharakhai? The story stands on its own, but also whets the reader’s appetite for what’s to come.

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