I picked up this book in hardcover for $7–what a steal.
I’d never heard of Bradley P. Beaulieu before this, but I’m really glad a book on sale introduced me to his work.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first instalment in The Song of Shattered Sands trilogy.
The story is set in the desert, in the great city of Sharakhai, which has been ruled by twelve kings for a few hundred years. The setting is the most impressive thing about the book. Sharakhai is so vibrant, so unique, it almost takes on the mantle of character. Something about the descriptions brought me to the foot of the bazaar, allowed me to marvel at the bustle and smell the spices.
The people are diverse and described in such a way that they are easy to picture. They become real within a few sentences on the first page.
The systems of magic are also interesting, with power coming from things as simple as flower petals. I was really intrigued by the monsters in the book, the asirim. They’re kind of like zombies meet mummies, but not in the brainzzzz kind of way–pretty cool.
The story follows Çeda, a young woman with fire in her heart. She’s a pit fighter–a pretty legendary one, I might add–and the book starts with her in a fight.
The fast-paced start of the book had my toes curling. I really loved the dynamic of this fight, but if I’m brutally honest, this wonderful start of the story might have done the overall plot some damage. You see, the pit thing only becomes relevant again near the end of the book, after hundreds of pages. I don’t feel that it’s really important, except that it shows us what a bad arse Çeda is.
This punch-in-the-face start creates the expectation that the rest of the book will be all action, then fails to deliver. The pace slows down to a crawl. This is probably why I struggled to finish the book (I’m glad I did though, stay with me 😊).
I’ve been trying to analyse why the saggy middle of Twelve Kings was so difficult to wade through, and this is what I’ve come up with.
Çeda’s life story is shrouded in secret–I love that–but it’s pretty obvious from the get-go what that secret is. We have to follow her as she tries to make sense of stuff we can already answer, so she doesn’t seem quite as cunning as she’s made out to be.
Also, Çeda is our viewpoint character for most of the book, but not all of it. We have a single chapter here or there narrated by someone else. I found this a little jarring, random even. We never get to delve deep into these characters (the POV is pretty shallow) and it’s like we just get to know Çeda a little better, then we’re ripped out of her POV and placed into someone else’s. These POV shifts don’t enrich the story, in my opinion.
More than shallow POV, though–I didn’t really care about the characters until we neared the end, and then I only cared about some of them. For the majority of the book, we’re only told how bad the kings are, but there’s nothing that really shows us, nothing that raises the stakes. All we know is the kings and a resistance group, the Moonless Host, are waging this war against each other, and Sharakhani innocents are killed in the crossfire.
Having said all of this, when Çeda finally realises the truth of her past, things begin picking up speed again. By the end of the book, we’re sprinting. A twist or two jumps out at us, the pit fighter in Çeda is unleashed again, and shit goes down in a massive way.
By the last 100 pages, I couldn’t put down the book. The ending was really good, and made crawling through the saggy part of Twelve Kings worthwhile. I’m also happy to say that I’m 12 chapters into the sequel, and the pace hasn’t slowed yet.
In the end, I recommend this book just because the world is so rich and interesting. When the plot finally gets going again, it’s great. 6/10