Publisher: DAW Books
Prequels are an interesting cultural affair. In movies the have been used to extend the life of a franchise, maybe the actors are too old or just not interested in continuing, maybe it is a promise once made to fans that the background story will one day be revealed, only to fall short i.e. Star Wars 1-3 or Prometheus. In literature it is something different; a device an author might use to further explore their created world, to tell those tales merely hinted at in a fleeting moment between two characters or to widen the intrigue. In his Tales of Egg and Dunk, beginning with The Hedge Knight, George R.R. Martin gave his readers a taste of his world before A Song of Ice and Fire takes place. He explained those things his original series could not, for such a departure would have made little to no sense.
Bradley P. Beaulieu, perennial favorite at the Guild office, has now also released a prequel to his Arabian Nights fantasy Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and is therefore subtitled The Song of Shattered Sands 0,5.
In this book the reader is treated to a tale from Çeda’s past, before the events of Twelve Kings take place. She has already made a name for herself in the fighting pits, and is referred to as The White Wolf. Çeda becomes involved with an ehkreh, some form of demonic entity, by the name of Rümayesh who lures her into her lair in order to steal her memories. Çeda finds herself fighting to not reveal her inner secrets, ones that may very well ruin her, to the crowd that Rümayesh has gathered. She’s in luck and is saved by two godling children; Hidi and Makuo and that is where she thinks the adventure ends, but alas that is not so. The White Wolf finds herself drawn in deeper and an intricate part of the ehkreh’s destiny.
Of Sand and Malice Made is a fun foray into Çeda’s history. It hints at some of her secrets and the conflict within her and the community in which she lives. The world of Twelve Kings comes alive in a vibrant blend of smells, colors and sound that complements the first book in a wondrous way. Çeda becomes somewhat of a classic picaro in the desert landscape and guides the reader through her reality filled with mischief, dangers and exotic people, like a child showing off her new room to first time visitors. Beaulieu’s world complements his protagonist and she does the same to the backdrop that houses her. His descriptions of places and people has been his strength throughout his production and without it his fairly fairly simple intrigue would fall flat. He uses tropes more common in the setting of a 19th century coming of age novel and places it in a world foreign to that kind intrigue, taking a page from Stephen Donaldson.
To those who have read Twelve Kings Of Sand and Malice Made is a welcome return to the dry climate of Sharakhai and satiates the thirst whilst waiting for the next installment. For a new reader it may well be a good starting point before delving into the complexity of the Shattered Sands series. The book is shorter than most fantasy fair and the story less elaborate, but nevertheless enticing.
Of Sand and Malice Made cements Beaulieu’s position as the next big thing in fantasy and makes us hunger for more; more Çeda, more Sharakhai and more hot desert sun.
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