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“Beneath the Twisted Trees” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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The fourth book in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands series ramps up the action and the stakes even more than the previous volumes. The simmering tensions among the Kings of Sharakhai come to a head, a new faction enters the power struggle, and Çeda continues her quest to free the asirim.

In my review for the previous book, I noted that the gods were beginning to take a more active role in the story. This trend continues in Twisted Trees, with no fewer than three deities putting in personal appearances. We even get a brief section from the point of view of one god. One plot thread also provides more information about a previous generation of deities who left the setting uncounted ages ago. What started as a conflict between human factions has expanded, and at this point in the story, it’s clear that Sharakhai sits at the center of a divine plot centuries in the making. Beaulieu doesn’t let this rob his mortal characters of agency, however. Powerful as the gods are, they aren’t omnipotent, and we’ve already seen some of their designs thwarted by the actions of Çeda and her friends.

The increasing complexity of the plot isn’t limited to divine intervention, either. Twisted Trees brings a new faction to the forefront of the plot: the Enclave, a group of blood magi operating in Sharakhai. They’re only one plot thread among many, and several of the characters are newly introduced in this book, so we haven’t had as much time with them as we have with other groups like the Moonless Host or the Kings. Despite that, Beaulieu is able to give a sense that these are fully developed characters with their own histories, relationships, and agendas. The romance between Esmeray and Davud does suffer a bit for the relatively little page space spent on the blood magi, but overall their inclusion adds another layer to the story.

We also learn a bit more about both Mirea and Malasan. As the Shattered Sands series has progressed, its focus has expanded to include the nations around Sharakhai. As with the gods, the machinations of Sharakhai’s human neighbors have come out into the open as the Kings are weakened. Of the two, I found the Mirean plotline more engaging, largely because I’ve had a soft spot for Brama since he was introduced. (And while his ehrekh companion Rümayesh isn’t exactly a sympathetic character, she’s certainly intriguing.)

As the book ends, things are shaping up for the final conflict, and there’s a cliffhanger for one major character. The final book in the series, When Jackals Storm the Walls, is slated to come out in 2020. In addition, Beaulieu is currently working on a novella set in the Shattered Sands universe. I’m eagerly looking forward to both of these. While it will be sad to see this series come to a close, I have no doubt that Beaulieu will bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

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