‘Twelve Kings in Sharakhai’ by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Audiobook Review

Finished on 1/21/2019

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Genres: Fantasy, Song of the Shattered Sands, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Arabic Flavored Fantasy, Political Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Kickass Female Protagonist

Similar books: ‘City of Brass‘, Kill Bill (Movies), A Game of Thrones, Tigana

Previous books in the series reviewed: ‘With Blood Upon the Sand,’ ‘A Veil of Spears‘, ‘Of Sand and Malice Made

  • Highly Recommended
    • If you want to read a city-focused Epic Fantasy series,
    • an Arabic-flavored Fantasy,
    • a Kickass Female Protagonist
    • A Political Fantasy novel (think Middle Eastern Game of Thrones)
  • Recommended
    • If you want to read a character focused Fantasy story
    • A story with colorful prose, reminding me somewhat of Guy Gavriel Kay
    • A traditional Sword and Sorcery Fantasy story with a strong amount of combat and action
  • Recommended with Reservations
    • If you want to read a fast paced Epic Fantasy (this book is relatively slow)

Spoiler-ific review

This is a re-read for me. I wanted to have a second go at this because a. I liked it the first time and b. I wanted to have this review on my blog to complete the set. While good and I still highly recommend this novel, this book has some serious flaws.

The gods favor the city Sharhakhai. Sharhakhai is the glittering amber jewel in the desert. It’s only purpose is as a trading post, positioned as a key hub between four major empires. All four empires have long coveted to conquer this gemstone and take it’s immense wealth and power, but none have dared. Twelve immortal kings rule the amber city, and the kings command a legion of undead zombie footsoldiers who do their every bidding.

Çedamihn, aka Çeda (Pronounced Cheda), is a pit fighter in the city. Her mother was once in their confidences, but one day when her mother was visiting the palaces of the kings she was tortured to death and then strung up on the walls of the palace, her corpse a visible demonstration of what happens to people who rebel. Now Çeda wants nothing more than to kill all twelve of the kings.

Plot: Çeda must work her way up the totem pole of Sharhakhai’s underworld, trying to avoid the notice of the city’s cops while undermining the will of the kings. Four hundred years ago the gods and the kings formed a covenant, whereby the gods granted them immortality, magics and obedient zombie slaves. Additionally that night the gods gave each king a riddle, a riddle which foretold their doom. Çeda must discover these riddles to figure out the weaknesses of each of the kings and how to get around their immortality and magical protections.

Characters: Strong. Çeda  and her on-again-off-again boyfriend Emre are detailed and nuanced people who are driven by their pasts into different directions. Both are driven by their desires for revenge, but where Çeda winds up becoming a spy amongst the ranks of the Kings, Emre becomes a rank-and-file soldier in the Moonless Host. They never quite see eye to eye due to their different methodologies.

Pacing: And this is where things struggle. About a third of this novel is flashbacks. That’s really a lot. Some of the flashbacks are important to the plot, but most aren’t and merely serve as characterization for Çeda and Emre. While I like characterization, each scene in a book must pull double duty. The fact that they were plot light caused me to get bored and skip some of them on this re-read.

Setting: Great. This is an Arabic/Turkish -flavored setting, but with the sexism and monotheism removed. Sharhakhai is a city in the desert, and to cross the desert you must sail there on boats which skim across the sands. In the desert there are man-eater trees and sacred legions of zombies; downtrodden apothecaries and an elite coterie of warrior women; a rebelling faction of sheikhs and sinister djinn-demons. We smell the fragrant foods, we can taste the spray of sand in our mouths as it flies out of the wake of the sand-sailing boats.

Prose: The author’s prose is like Guy Gavriel Kay’s, but slightly lighter and turned to an action-focused plot. I like it quite a bit.

Constructive criticism:

See the pacing section. The story slowed down a lot for the flashbacks. Also the book had a relatively slow, overly workshopped start.

I wanted the ‘pro-Kings’ faction to have a compelling, not sinister viewpoint. The author never provided a pro-Kings viewpoint which wasn’t sinister.

Finally, the author misses some opportunities to show, not tell. For non-writers, this means that the narrator of the story/the POV character thinks a thought to themselves to explain a bit of worldbuilding instead allowing that worldbuilding fact develop holistically. It’s a clumsy writing technique.

Net total, I really liked this one but I have to ding a few points for pacing. I had a good time, and I hope you do too.

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