Sharakai, nicknamed The Amber City, is a bustling metropolis of trade and culture surrounded by desert sand. It is ruled with an iron fist by the Twelve Kings, mythical leaders who one day came from the desert to take control of the city. The Kings are cruel dictators who rule the citizens through the Silver Spears and the more elite Blade Maidens.
Even though the Kings’ powers are absolute and to cross them is to meet with certain death there is an underground movement to oppose them. Among those seeking to usurp the Kings is Çeda, a young woman who fights in the bloody pits under the guise of the White Wolf. The driving force behind her war against the Kings is the brutal murder of her own mother several years earlier. On the holiest night of the year, a night when no one is allowed outside for fear of death, she and a partner sneak out to deliver two important packages.
This sets in motion events that might bring the Kings to their knees and bring some much needed freedom to the people of Sharakhai.
In the first installment of his The Song of Shattered Sands series Beaulieu stays true to the writing style he displayed in The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy. Once again he brings the reader in to a unique world with a unique hero, as well as a twisting plot. There has long been a need for a reinvigorating of fantasy as a genre and Beaulieu taps into this in spades with his new book.
Çeda, the main protagonist, is unique in herself. This humble reviewer’s experience over the years has been that female characters are doomed to play one of three roles; The Princess, The Warrior or The Witch and never may those roles mix or she must die. Added to this fact is that heroines often must utilize a male figure to be successful in her endeavors, although this is more a part of popular literature than it is exclusive to fantasy. Beaulieu’s heroine is not one of those characters. She is more akin to her European counterparts found in the books of Tobias Landström, Christina Brönnestam and trail blazed by Bertil Mårtensson in the early part of the eighties. A warrior not afraid to take what she wants or play on her sexuality without becoming cliche or tired. She is a breath of fresh air in a genre that too often falls into stereotypes no matter how much it tries.
This also true of the setting of Sharakhai. The descriptions of the desert city and its people brings the avid reader of Sword and Sorcery to the world of Howard’s Conan or Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and the busy market may well make the world traveler remember the Medina of Tunisia. One can almost feel the heat from the bright sun or the throng of bodies and that is the beauty of this narrative. It is what is unique with the choice of environment. Most fantasy books are so often set in a standard medieval world where readers and writers have come to an understanding of what creatures should live there and what they look like, just as what a tavern looks like or any such things. Beaulieu opens up something new, much like he did in the Anuskaya trilogy, and invites us to become entranced by the journey he takes us on.
He does this with his convincing writing style and to keep reality close at all times. No matter what happens and what strange creatures the characters encounter it is still all very believable. Much of it due to the characters’ inner thoughts and backgrounds, how they deal with real life issues, such as how to avoid pregnancies.
A lot more could be said about Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and there already has, but the best endorsement that can be given is that you read it for yourself. It would be ashamed if the things that make it unique would go unnoticed, because it is a real treat to read with adventure, political intrigue as well as a great deal of humanity.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is now available as a hard cover, e-book and audio book from