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“A Veil of Spears” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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The fantasy saga that Bradley P. Beaulieu started with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai continues in A Veil of Spears, the third book in the series. As the conflict between the Kings and the Moonless Host heats up, the united façade of the Kings begins to crack, and Ҫeda seeks a way to free the enslaved asirim.

As in the previous novels, Beaulieu deftly provides the reader with a mix of action and intrigue. There’s also a hefty dose of magic, as the gods play a more active role than they did in the previous books. Sometimes, the middle books in a series have a tendency to slump, but that’s not a problem here.

In addition to giving Davud a larger role, A Veil of Spears introduces a new viewpoint character: Brama, a former thief who now treats those addicted to an opium-like substance. He gets drawn into the battle for Sharakhai when Meryam and Ramahd plot to steal the magical gem he’s been using in his treatments. The expanded cast does force Beaulieu to give some of them shorter shrift than I would have liked—Davud’s plotline gets dropped about two-thirds of the way through the novel—but overall, I enjoyed the new dimension Brama’s involvement brought to the story.

Brama’s introduction is related to a larger development: the incorporation of material from the Shattered Sands novellas. Brama and “his” ehrekh Rümayesh featured in The Tattered Prince and the Demon Veiled and Of Sand and Malice Made, while Leorah’s backstory was given in The Doors at Dusk and Dawn. The narrative summarizes the major events of those stories, so reading them isn’t necessary to understand A Veil of Spears, but familiarity with those works will make the main story richer. Weaving those elements into the main plot creates the impression that the tale is becoming grander, drawing everyone in Sharakhai and the desert into its orbit, whether they want to be there or not.

I pre-ordered A Veil of Spears as soon as it was available, and it has me eagerly looking forward to the next installment. The one minor disappointment I had involves a major revelation at the end of the book, so beware spoilers below:

 

I was happy to see Sümeya joining Ҫeda, because I liked her in the earlier books. I especially liked that she and Ҫeda had feelings for each other and was hoping that this relationship might be rekindled now that they’re on the same side. Love triangles are a dime a dozen in literature, but they almost always assume heterosexuality on the part of all participants. Such a triangle between Emre, Ҫeda, and Sümeya would have been a refreshing change. (And there was also a possibility of Sümeya feeling torn between two women she loves when she inevitably discovers that Nayyan’s still alive.) But with Ҫeda’s discovery that they’re half-sisters, that seems unlikely to happen. Though I do wonder whether Ihsan was being truthful about Ҫeda’s parentage…

“The Tattered Prince and the Demon Veiled” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Unlike the other stories Bradley P. Beaulieu has written in his Song of the Shattered Sands universe, The Tattered Prince and the Demon Veiled is a direct sequel to one of his previous novellas. Tattered Prince centers on a side character from Of Sand and Malice Made. In that story, Brama fell afoul of a malevolent creature called an ehrekh. Now, he holds the gem in which that ehrekh’s spirit has been trapped. It tempts him with power, trying to convince him to set it free. So far, he has resisted its siren song…but when he becomes enmeshed in a game of international intrigue, his resolve is sorely tested.

For whatever reason, this novella felt slighter to me than some of the others Beaulieu has written. I didn’t become as emotionally invested in the plight of the siblings Brama pledges to help as I have been with Ҫeda and Emre from the main storyline or Leorah from The Doors at Dusk and Dawn. That said, I liked Brama and hope he reappears in the main sequence of novels.

“The Doors at Dusk and Dawn” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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I mentioned in my review of In the Village Where Brightwine Flows that Bradley P. Beaulieu has gradually been introducing his readers to the cultures that surround the city of Sharakhai. His novella The Doors at Dusk and Dawn continues this pattern, introducing the reader to the culture of the nomadic desert tribes who inhabit the Great Shangazi. The story centers on a traditional race held by three of the tribes, known as Annam’s Traverse. Each tribe offers up a prize to the winner, but in this case, one of the prizes offered is far greater than the tribe’s shaikh knows. The main character, Leorah, is desperate to win this prize, but she’ll have to best an emissary of one of Sharakhai’s kings to obtain it.

This novella is essentially a prequel to the main Song of the Shattered Sands novels. Beaulieu maintains a delicate balance between tying the novella into the larger plot and making it an interesting story in its own right. The tension between Leorah and her twin sister Devorah was well-written, and even the secondary characters had enough depth to make me care about them. The story’s conclusion was both poignant and thought-provoking, and I wonder whether it will have implications for the main storyline of the novels.

“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.

“Of Sand and Malice Made” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I’ve fallen in love with Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands series and was happy to find out that he’s written a couple of novellas set in the same world. Of Sand and Malice Made indirectly expands on one of the story threads from the main series: Ramahd’s involuntary entanglement with the ehrekh Guldrathen. Here, a younger Ҫeda attracts the attention of Rumayesh, another ehrekh, and must extricate herself from the mortal peril this entails.

In Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, we learn that there are four nations surrounding the Great Shangazi. We learn a bit about Qaimir through Ramahd and Meryam’s storyline, a bit about Mirea through Juvaan, and a character who plays an important role in Emre’s past is Malasani. But we hear very little about Kundhun. Sand and Malice gives us a window into that enigmatic country and enlarges the Shattered Sands universe.

The novella also introduces the reader to new forms of magic and to new life-forms that inhabit the Great Shangazi. In addition to further expanding the setting presented by the main series, this portrays the world as a place where even known territories can hide wondrous (or terrifying) mysteries.

As Ҫeda seeks to free herself from Rumayesh’s clutches, she learns more about the mysterious ehrekhs. While Sand and Malice can be read independently of the main series, I can’t help thinking that some of what she learns here will be vital in the later books. It’s definitely whetted my appetite for the next Shattered Sands novel, and I’m also looking forward to seeing what other tidbits about Ҫeda’s world will be revealed in the two further novellas that are forthcoming from Beaulieu.

“With Blood upon the Sand” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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Sometimes, the middle book in a trilogy gets so caught up in being a bridge between the first and third books that it forgets it needs to be interesting in its own right. I’m happy to report that Bradley P. Beaulieu’s With Blood upon the Sand doesn’t suffer from this problem.

One of the major themes in this book is that the factions we were presented with in the first volume aren’t as united as they initially appeared. The increased complexity of the conflict, and the revelation of some of the players’ agendas, is one of the things that kept me turning the pages. In particular, some of my favorite parts of the book centered on the struggle between Hamzakiir and Macide for control of the Moonless Host. The novel also gives us additional details on the factions within the Kings and the individual powers and personalities of the monarchs.

While With Blood upon the Sand follows the continuing adventures of Ҫeda, Emre, and Ramahd, it also gives us a new viewpoint character, the young scholar Davud. Introduced in the first book, he becomes much more important to the central plot here, and also experiences a great deal of character growth. Davud’s arc also serves as a vehicle for a deeper exploration of a form of magic we were first introduced to in Twelve Kings. Although Davud only gets a couple of viewpoint chapters, they do a lot of work in terms of character development, setting explanation, and plot.

One of the things I liked about Twelve Kings in Sharakai was the innovative fight scenes. Ҫeda started out as a gladiator, and Beaulieu did a great job of writing bouts for her that included interesting weapons and tactics. In Blood, he brings this element to a larger-scale battle, with one of the sides using a unique method to bring down a major structural obstacle.

My one gripe with this book was the usage of the “bloody verses,” poems that foretell the ways in which each King might be defeated. There’s one poem for each King…which is a lot of poems. While it could certainly get boring to have the poems repeated every five pages, I feel like Beaulieu went a bit too far in the other direction. In many stories with prophecies, part of the fun is in trying to figure out what the prophecy means and whether a given situation might fit into it. But with so many bloody verses, it’s tough to remember a particular King’s verse at any given time when that King is in a difficult or dangerous situation. A quick reminder every so often would have helped.

With Blood upon the Sand provides a satisfying continuation to the storylines established in Twelve Kings, while also setting up new conflicts. Those will presumably come to a head in the concluding volume, A Veil of Spears, which is due out in March 2018. I’m looking forward to that book, and am also planning to check out Beaulieu’s other series, The Lays of Anuskaya.

“Twelve Kings in Sharakai” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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Bradley P. Beaulieu’s “Song of Shattered Sands” series takes place in a city that lies in the center of a vast desert. Sharakai is a center of trade and learning, but once it was an embattled settlement on the brink of destruction. Twelve men saved it by making a pact with the gods of the desert. Those twelve men still rule Sharakai, for the gods gave them the gift of immortality. If you’re thinking, “What’s the catch?” to yourself, you’re on the right track. The followers of those kings made a great sacrifice, one that echoes down to the present day of Sharakai. But not everyone thinks the sacrifices are worth it (especially since the population seems to be doing most of the sacrificing, with the twelve kings reaping most of the benefits).

One of the greatest strengths of the novel is its sense of place. Sharakai feels like a living, breathing city, and the glimpses we get of characters from the nations outside the great desert give the reader the sense of a wider world beyond the city’s borders. (Twelve Kings in Sharakai takes place entirely in Sharakai and the nearby regions of desert, but I’m hoping that the sequel will give us a more direct look at one or more of the other countries.) The vividness of the setting is enhanced by small touches: a snowboard-like device called a zilij is used for personal transportation over short distances in the desert; a tribe marks the palms of their hands with tattoos so that they can only be seen when the hands are extended open (as opposed to being clenched around the hilt of a weapon); a neighborhood with a convoluted network of streets is known as The Knot.

Beaulieu also avoids the pitfall of simplifying the central conflict of the book too much. The main character, Ҫeda, wants to bring down the kings, but doesn’t think much of the main organization opposing them. A secondary character has a vendetta against that group—but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s on the side of the kings. The novel certainly has some suspenseful action scenes, but the intrigue between and within factions kept me turning the pages too.

I hadn’t heard of Beaulieu before someone told me about this book, but now I’m looking forward to reading the sequel and to seeking out some of his other work.