I’m keeping this review short because this is book 5 out of 6. I already read and published my series review for all 6; click here for it.
Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I’m writing this review as an author critiquing another author’s book, in an attempt to improve my own writing.
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
This is book 5 in a 6 book series. I enjoyed books 1 thru 4. Naturally, I’m inclined to enjoy this book.
READER’S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
This book was a tightly paced narrative in which the author cashed in on many of the promises made in the prior four books. As a consequence of the author paying off of promises, this book felt good to read. I’ve had questions for 4 books now, and it was great to finally get answers.
Similarly, I liked that so many important characters died, setting up for a high-tension final act of the story.
Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (B)
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
This series began as a strict revenge narrative: Ceda wants revenge for her mother’s death, and will kill the kings of Sharhakai to get that revenge. Over time, Ceda’s revenge mission has become corrupted as events in Sharhakai has made the enemy of her enemy into her friend. In this penultimate book, she’s forced to cooperate with the kings in order to save lives.
I liked this gradual scope-change as the novels have taken place, as new enemies have taken over prominence, and once-heroes compromised themselves enough that they’ve become villains.
Now that said, this book is very much a glue story, sticking together plots set up in prior books with the final book. This book in no way stands on it’s own, and it ends in a massive cliffhanger. Lots of important events happen in this book, but they happened to project this story to it’s climactic final battle. I would have enjoyed if this book stood more on it’s own two legs.
Overall, I give the story’s Concept and Execution a rating of: (A-)
CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:
The characters in this book were FANTASTIC. (Note that I’m probably getting the spelling wrong, because I listened to the audiobook.)
I’ll only talk about Miriam in depth for the sake of time. When she was introduced to this series, she was my favorite hero. She was emotionally compromised after her sister’s death at the hands of the Moonless Host and the 13th tribe, and she wanted revenge. She used her blood magic in book after book to climb the political ladder, killing anyone she needed to kill, until finally she stood on top of Sharhakai as the uncontested most powerful person in the desert. She became the villain who was willing to genocide the 13th tribe to get revenge.
And then this book ended with Miriam getting her revenge… and still she wasn’t happy. At long, long last it’s revealed the twist of Miriam admitting that all the evil she’s done and all the power she’s gathered in the her revenge quest hasn’t satisfied her. Seeking revenge was always an excuse for her to claim power for herself. For years, she lied to herself and everyone else about her motives. She always wanted to be queen of the world, and revenge was the excuse she gave herself and her allies so she wouldn’t feel guilty about her naked ambition.
Miriam got her revenge, but she still wants power. She’s done lying to herself, and no longer cares about feeling guilty about her ambition. She’s out for conquest, and gods help anyone who tries to stop her. She’s become my favorite villain of all time.
I also enjoyed how the author climaxed this book with a culling of many of the less important side characters, giving them a heartfelt send-off. In many Epic Fantasy series, the scope of POV characters tends to bloat up book after book as the author introduces more characters. In this penultimate book, the author judiciously gave several of them a fantastic send-off, so the final book can be tighter.
My biggest problem was that some characters (such as Sumea) didn’t get much of the limelight in this book. My guess is that they’re going to be put center-stage in the next book.
Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (B+)
PACING AND STRUCTURE
This book was a fast-paced thrill ride. It had a few slow moments throughout, but nothing too major. Plus what slow moments which were there served to enhance the texture of the plot.
I am not examining the structure for the sake of time.
Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (B+)
PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
For the sake of time, I’m not diving deep into the plot. However, I enjoyed what I read.
The book’s stakes were high, especially starting from the moment when it was revealed the gods’ evil scheme to destroy the whole desert. These high stakes were complemented with (mildly) lower stakes as well, such as with Miriam’s attempted genocide of the 13th tribe, Hamid’s attempt to take over the 13th tribe, the quest to find Nalame, and Willam’s struggle for freedom.
The tension was well done throughout. Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed if the author slowed things out more and reduced tension at one or two points and let the pacing mellow out some. This isn’t book 6; it didn’t have to be so fast. The author could have calmed things down some.
Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (B)
AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)
I did not enjoy the author’s voice as much in this book as I did in prior in the series. Earlier books tended to stop and smell the roses a bit more often, and linger upon little things like the taste of bread, or the flavor of tea, or a smell upon the wind. This book was such a thrill ride that the little beauties common in Beaulieu’s writing style seemed to get cut. The book was still beautiful, but I wanted a bit more.
Thematically, this book is about death. SPOILERS! Four or five major characters die, including a god. A portal to the afterlife is opened. A demon is brought back to life as a zombie. Human sacrifice is practiced on a massive scale. A person has to remember the memories of her past reincarnations. This theme is there, but I don’t really get the message the author was trying to send. (If there was a message.)
I give the Authorial Voice: (B)
SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY
Sharhakai and the surrounding lands is my favorite fantasy setting. It’s both very original and very rich. The worldbuilding is second to none.
The magic is on the ‘soft’ end of the spectrum. There is no system, as far as I can see, beyond divine miracles and blood magic and weird monsters. It all works very well.
I give the Setting: (A+)
The audiobook, narrated by Kate Redding, was very good.
I give the Audiobook: (A-)
- When writing a multi-book series with many POVs, it can be wise to kill off multiple important characters in the penultimate book to clear the board for the final book. This book did that well.
- Slow corruption arcs are fun, especially over multiple books.
WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?
- People who read books 1 thru 4
- People 15+
- People who want to read Middle Eastern/Arabian/Turkish inspired Epic Fantasy
This is a good book, where the author clears the board before the final novel. This book satisfactorily answers questions set up in the first 4 books in the series. This book is a lot of payoff, and felt good to read.
Literary Rating: B+ (A= As good as or better than award winning books, B= Not as good as award winners, but still very good, C= Good, not great, D= Fun, but flawed, F= Not recommended)
Enjoyment Rating: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 Stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended) (Enjoyment means two things: how much fun did I have reading this book? And how much did this book make me think about real world issues?)
Genres/Tagwords: Sharhakai, Song of the Shattered Sands, Bradley Beaulieu, middle eastern fantasy, arabic fantasy, epic fantasy, high fantasy
Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:
Did you like this critique/review? Here are some more:
- Sharpe’s Tiger
- A Review of ‘The Haunting of Tram Car 015’ by P. Djeli Clark
- Why you should read ‘Rings, Swords and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature’ by Michael D. C. Drout
- A Literary Study of ‘Gideon the Ninth’ by Tamsyn Muir
- A Review of ‘The Book of Rumi’ by Rumi
- A Review of ‘Unsouled’ by Will Wight
- A Review of ‘Terrier’ by Tamora Pierce
- A Review of ‘Breach of Peace’ by Daniel B. Greene