Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: Ragnarok Publications
Writing young adult fiction is a balancing act. It is treading a fine line between what is appropriate and what is not. Since the age span is quite large, and that the definition of young adult is quite fickle it must be daunting for an author to decide what to add in a story. Writers like John Green have been able to find the balance, but with the help of the subject material as a guide to readers what may fit them. That is all well and good for literary fiction, genres like fantasy have a more difficult time, almost always being a beacon for younger readers. Garth Upshaw is one author who manages to write young adult grimdark.
Grimdark, or dystopian fantasy as one might categorize it, is a subgenre that is growing. Authors like Martin and Abercrombie have made the call for a more realistic variant of fantasy. A style where the future of the protagonists are uncertain and the secondary world is a dark place, and might even stay so, no matter how many farm boys find magic swords and magical aides. It is not surprising that genre literature aimed at younger readers would also follow that trend.
The world that Garth Upshaw paints for the reader has a somber color pallet. It is a world that starts out being familiar to an avid fantasy reader. A world united under an oppressive Queen, Maeve, who uses her magic to not only stay young, but also terrorize the citizens. She rules them all with an iron fist through the violent Lord Zorahn, in a style reminiscent of the dictatorships of Chile or Argentina. Queen Maeve has a deep dark secret. The source of her magic comes from certain stones. Stones that most people believe come from her mines. Mines where goblins work themselves to death. The truth is something far more sinister.
Nail is a goblin on the lam. He is trying to escape the clutches of the Queen’s men and when his sister is mortally wounded, he seeks the help of a human. Alas it is too late. They recover her body in order for Nail to recover the stones from within her body, traditionally in goblin society the family members eat the stones. The human reveals that the stones have magical powers and they are worth quite a lot. Not only does Nail learn the secrets of how the stones work, but also that there are no mines. Maeve has been using the goblins like cattle, making them eat the plant veya that their bodies have then converted to stones. Then slaughtering the goblins to harvest the precious commodity. With the power of magic Nail decides that it is time for a change.
At the same time a fairy named Lianne and her rat like friend Feldsken are pulled into a revolutionary group trying to overthrow the Queen, by accident.Gizzard Stones is a tangled web of various story lines that quickly intertwine. Upshaw keeps the reader on their toes all throughout the book without there ever being a dull moment. It is helped by each character walking a fine line between being bad and good, like all good characters should. Even Maeve has a positive agenda, believing she is what is best for the world. Saving them from warring city-states and bringing in expensive goods. So what if the citizens are oppressed and the goblins are used as cattle.
The world that Upshaw has created might just as well have been made by Jim Henson. It is one part Dark Crystal and one part Labyrinth. A place filled with mutated humans, fairies, goblins and other mystical things. It is a place that is so familiar that one can easily escape to it, but dark and horrific enough to make one feel for the creatures who dwell there.In the end Gizzard Stones is able to blend the familiar in fantasy and that which is new and disturbing, our reality.
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
It is a widely held belief that no one is interested in reading reviews of older books. That for some reason readers are only interested in what is coming on the horizon and not that which has been. Not so here at the Guild. We do get our fair share of new books to review, but we also come in contact with less recent releases through services like Riffle, Bookperks and Bookbud. There is a bigger need for authors to have their work reviewed at Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble, to get their names out there. Therefore we at The Guild have instituted Rear View, a forum where we review older titles. Out first is the first installment of the Malediction series: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen.
In an alternative France Cécile de Troyes leaves her family to further her singing career when she finds herself kidnapped and sold off to the trolls that live deep under ground. She is forced to marry the heir to the troll throne Tristan in hopes that it will break the curse that keeps them trapped under the rocks. Once bound she finds that there is a juxtaposition between the human hating conservative trolls, represented by the King and the more liberal views of the opposition, represented by her new husband. He, being afraid of what his people might due once freed, is not as eager to break the spell cast by the witch Anushka.
At first her relationship with her young husband is one of hate and dissatisfaction from both sides, but as time goes by and Cécile comes to terms with her new living arrangements and she understands Tristan’s true motives, among them protecting the half human, half troll breeds she begins to investigate what really happened with Anushka and the magic that lives within herself.
Stolen Songbird might appear, at first glance, to be just another young adult romance story and initially it might be true, but there is more to it. Of course the frame of it is deeply steeped in the romance with all of its tropes, such as the dark brooding handsome man who turns out to be a decent guy, the innocent young heroine who finds her inner strength so that she can change her destiny. It is a tale that is as old as genre fiction itself and in order for it to not fall into the trap harlequin swamp such a tale needs to be different. Jensen’s story is as different as it needs to be in order to be quite enjoyable and even though it may seem to be aimed at a certain type of reader it can in reality be enjoyed by all.
The story is driven through a shared narrative where the readers get to follow both Cécile and Tristan’s thoughts as they have their own separate chapters, but it is mostly the former’s voice that is heard. It is through her that the reader is privy to the world of the trolls and little by little their history and backstory is unraveled. Cécile herself has a story that is simultaneously reveled in steps and in many ways it is as the history of the protagonist is a tragic as the world she finds herself in. Romantic entanglement in all its various forms intermingle with political intrigue as well as class warfare and racism making Stolen Songbird a clear reflection of its time and the turmoil and nationalistic tensions that have plagued the early 2000s.
It is easy to brush off the first Malediction book as romantic fiction for young adults, but there is more of Diana Galbadon here than Jackie Collins. It might start out as such, but as opposed to Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton the story matures and shies away from this oft, unfairly, tainted genre to take a place along side Outlander as an attempt to revamp it, instead of falling into its trap.
Series: Book 1 in Dark Gifts series
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Gilded Cage is the first book in Vic James’ series that goes by the name of Dark Gifts. A story that blends human tragedy, oppressive legislature and love in an alternative world.
Luke Hadley’s world changes only days before a big test when his parents and older sister Abi announce they will all be going to Kyneston. That would not be so bad for it is one of the most opulent and grand houses in all of Britain if it was not for the fact that this meant that he was starting his slavedays. In this alternative world the nobles, here known as equals possess a magic they call Skill. As a measure to create free labor as well as to keep the citizens under control people are forced to serve ten years as slaves, working menial jobs at various facilities, in return they are afforded certain rights. Abi, the med student, has arranged for her family; mother, father, Luke, young Daisy and herself, to work at the home of the most important of the equal families: The Jardines. This would entail a cushy ten years without the hard labor others might have to endure, but once everything has been sold or packed away and goodbyes been said the harsh reality sets in. When the bus comes to collect them it is revealed that Luke will not be joining his family at Kyneston, but is instead on his way to the slavetown of Millmoor.
As the Hadleys arrive at their new home the Jardines have their own issues. There are three son; the Heir Gavar who has spawned a child with a slave, Jenner who is without skill and Silyen who is looking to end the slavedays. The two families become unavoidably intertwines when Daisy is charged with caring for the bastard Libby and Abi becomes Jenner’s secretary. The world of the equals is filled with intrigue and clandestine affairs as the chancellor is preparing to make his yearly proposal, and Gavar Jardine his impending wedding. The proposal is to end the slavedays, forced by Silyen who is the only one who can wake the man’s fiancé from her coma. Meanwhile Luke is being drafted into a secret organization at the slavetown called the club that stages random incidents.
There are many stories being told here, a full cast of characters each having their own intrigue and plot and in the end, even if there is a resolution it gets to be a bit much. Several of the plotlines are told so briefly or are only hinted at that they do not have time to marinate and they could have been better off in a sequel. For it is quite obvious that Gilded Cage is but the first in a series of books. It’s not like the story isn’t interesting, quite the contrary it is more as if some plot elements would have benefited from being prolonged and moved, while others needed more time in this first installment. The character of Luke, who spends the first part of the book in Millmoor, is moved to Kyneston for reasons best left spoiler free, but his time in the slavetown is so short when it comes to page count that the reader never gets the feeling of the horror of spending ones slavedays there. In truth the plot revolving around the equals is more interesting and more in depth than that of the Hadleys and that is really too bad since they are supposed to have an equal amount of the story.
There is much to be had from Gilded Cage and what James wants to say about the times in which we live. The divide between the wealthier classes, call them one per centers if you will, have everything and others have to slave away to even become part of our society. At times the book is a perfect blend of the romance novels that Abi reads and sometimes it is a political fantasy story that may rival the intrigue of the Tudors or G.R.R. Martin. In the end Gilded Cage is a good launching point for the world James wants to create and it will be interesting to see where it takes us.
Genre: Fantasy/Gothic Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Familiarity in a story can be a double edged sword. It may be comforting to the reader like in romance novels purchased at the grocery store, to others it may be annoying and trite; to always know what is coming next, to not be surprised and maybe even at length be talked down to or taken for a simpleton. Naturally this might be dictated by what you read. An experienced fantasy reader with books by Stephen Donaldson, Ursula K. Leguin or Peter Beagle on their shelf might find Rowling’s Harry Potter books repetitive and borderline plagiarism. That isn’t to say that the end goal for most writers is to not turn out something new, it may be more about if the end result matches that very goal.
Eric Scott Fishcl’s Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show begins in a familiar setting, that of a traveling carnival at the end of the 19th century. To most readers a setting we know well, or at least have an idea of. It comes complete with a barker selling snake oil, a strong man, a singer and freaks. That is where the normalcy, if that can be an accurate description for a carnival, ends. The barker is Dr. Potter himself and the medicine he is trying to push is the Chock-a-saw Sagwa, a tonic that supposedly cures most ailments. He has not concocted it himself, instead there is another doctor, a Dr. Morrison Hedwith of Portland, behind the miracle drink. The Sagwa is the centerpiece of this tale of personal misery and broken figures trying to fight their obvious obstacles. As with most tonics of the age the Sagwa that Dr. Potter sells is useless, but there is a formulae that has other, more sinister effects, ones that he, the strongman Oliver, the Chinaman Fan and the proprietor of the show Lyman Rhoades desperately need. All of them are beholden to Dr. Hedwith due to dark events in their pasts and are therefore forced to help him in his twisted experiments rooted in alchemy. The very fragile balance in the medicine show is constantly threatened as the members regret their decisions, but Lyman exacts vengeance upon them regardless of their usefulness to the mission.
Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is an excellent example of how to use tropes that have worked well in the past, and by disregarding those that have not successfully creating something fresh. The setting is reminiscent of TV shows like Deadwood or Ripper Street, a general melancholy with a sense of not being able to get out of ones current situation. The descriptions and language are used in a masterful way. The reader becomes instantly immersed in the sadness and sorrow of the characters and the world they inhabit, but there is a beauty and serenity in it, very much like the poems by Baudelaire who is oft quoted by singer turned prostitute in the book. The tempo is fast paced without ever feeling rushed, composed like a thriller the story moves along with ease without ever simplifying words or uncomplicating the plot. It speaks to Fischl’s ability to trust the reader and speaking to the reader’s intelligence. He makes no excuses and the characters suffer and go through hell without mercy and it is refreshing.
Fischl is great at using a variety of tropes belonging to just as varied a genre of literature; The western, the Gothic romance, the urban fantasy, the thriller and classic horror and he uses their various strengths like a master craftsman carrying a toolbox filled with the best tools for a job. The characters are easily recognizable as being plucked from Gothic Horror of Victorian style. The crazed and unethical aristocrat, the young innocent damsel, the idealistic young hero, a horrible assistant and a slew of other figures that make up a rich gallery.
There is a lot that Fischl does right with this book. It is a story about broken people, seemingly feeling like they have no hope and a man preying on them for his own sick and twisted reasons. One could easily see the story being picked up by FX or HBO, it’s that kind of story. That is one of the truly interesting aspects, it has a contemporary feel, the way the tale is told. Fischl has his finger on the pulse of what is going culturally be it TV or genre fiction, but in a late 19th century setting. It melds the credibility of human interest with a fantastical element written well enough to suspend ones disbelief. In the end it makes for a great and wonderful read that won’t disappoint those used to fantasy, horror or suspense.
Familiarity is a double edged sword, a trap that an author might fall into if they are not careful. The waters are tricky to navigate when using tropes from genre fiction, but the ship that Fischl commandeers keeps the reader dry and he does not wreck on the reefs of repetitiveness and triteness. Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show takes what is familiar and makes it original and engaging.
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: 3 January 2017
The most common trope in the realm of fantasy literature has to be the battle between god and evil. It is as prevalent as the heart’s desire or the yearning to be more than one is, it is also what gives the protagonist the vehicle to make that change. In The Wood Beyond the World, regarded as the first fantasy novel, the hero Golden Walter battles an evil witch to save a princess and Frodo and his friends need to defeat the vile Sauron by destroying his proxy the one ring in Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings. These two books may be the two most important works in the genre and cement the idea of good vs evil. Once the genre moved into the modern era and the rise of a darker version of it began to appear with books like Grunts, where the orcs are heroes and Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy where those who appear to be the heroes are not quite that. To turn tropes on their ear, flipping the script as it were, is what keeps genre fiction interesting and relevant.
The Last Sacrifice does this as well, and that might just be its core strength, the uncertainty of who to route for. To some readers, those who only read books for the familiarity of themes and tropes, this might break the trust between sender and receiver, but in this case that audience may just find that need satisfied as well.
When Brogan McTyre returns home he finds that his family, wife and three kids, are gone. In their place are four gold coins, the calling card of the Grakhul a tribe of people living on the outskirts of civilization. Hidden away in an are known as the Gateway the Grakhul, protected by the Five Kingdoms, sacrifices people to appease the Gods, leaving behind their calling card; one gold coin per person abducted.
Enraged Brogan and his friends raid the Gateway and the keep hidden inside it, but all in vain, his family has already been thrown into the bit. In a fury of revenge he kills all the Grakhul men and takes the women and children to sell them into slavery. The problem is that the dead and captured are not the real threat, they are mere worshipers of the Undying, the He-Kisshi, seemingly inhuman immortals who demand the sacrifices to live, but also to keep balance in the universe. A chase ensues as Brogan and his men hit the road, all the while chased by the Undying who want their followers back.
Moore’s story is an interesting experiment in the fantasy genre. He tells several parallel stories from several different vantage points, each with its own protagonist. There is little judgement from the narrator when it comes to deciding who is in the right here and it makes the reader sit on edge when trying to figure out who to root for. Each character is driven by desire; Brogan to find his family initially and then to escape the He-Kisshi, the He-Kisshi to find their followers and exact revenge, but also to restore balance, Myridia, a Grakhul woman wants to find a new place of sacrifice to continue her work and so on. There are very many different paths to follow and story lines that all intersect in the end. Brogan’s action set in motion such a slew of events that all threaten to culminate in one great climax. In the end it might be so that his need for revenge may destroy the entire world.
Moore plays his cards close to the vest and the information about how the different stories connect literally trickle through the pages creating suspense and thrills. As a reader this isn’t the only thing that immerses the tale in mystery. The fact that there are no real descriptions of the characters’ appearances or clothing and the sparse portrayal of the surroundings. Moore paints a vivid picture of what the characters do, feel or sense and the same is true for the milieu, but not how it appears and it allows the reader to delve deep into the self to conjure up images. It also allows relatively inexperienced readers of the genre to venture into the story without the preconceived ideas about what the genre is.
As stated earlier in this review the battle between good and evil often stand at the center of many a fantasy story, but in The Last Sacrifice it is difficult to pin down who belongs to what side. They all seem to have their own interpretation of who is right and who is wrong, and in the end that is the strength of this book.
Fantasy is one of the genres that a lot of people have issues with. The reasons for this may be the fantastical elements, the shattering of the suspension of disbelief that may occur when a farm boy can slay dragons or the mere fact that the desire of the heart displayed in the tale is difficult to relate to. The best, of any genre fiction, are the stories that create something new, something different. In some fantasy novels it can be a strong sense of reality like the books by Joe Abercrombie, a female hero who puts a common myths on its ear like Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon or it may, while still using the genre specific tropes and themes, place the setting in an inventive area like Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings or Lays of Anuskaya, and that is what Will Panzo does in the Burning Isle.
The spellcaster Cassius shows up on the island of Scipio, a hotbed, described as a slum, of criminal activity mostly due to the fact that the inhabitants are unable to live in other parts of the Republic. The council that is supposed to run the island are more or less for show as the power is divided by the gang leaders Piso and Cinna. They, themselves are at war for the ultimate power of the island. Cassius is unknown when he comes to Scipio, having spent years in training at another island. He displays great power of the runes, that spellcasters control through gauntlets, the magical source in this world when he manages to kill a man during a prizefight. This catches the eye of Piso and they form a relationship wherein Cassius begins doing jobs for the mobster. It becomes more and more clear that Cassius has more plans than just running errands and he begins to stir the pot by doing jobs for Cinna as well. The violence begins to escalate until it surely must boil over.
There are a lot of things to enjoy in Panzo’s tale of treason and conflict in the underworld. Firstly he places the story in the new setting of a sort of Roman world, complete with words and classifications used during that era and when one initially reads the book it easy to believe that it’s a historic fiction. It creates a link between the reader and the author as a lot of the terms and concepts are easily recognizable and most everyone has an image of Rome and the people therein. Panzo’s language is also sharp and would appeal to a great spectrum of readers and not much is lost between sender and receiver among the pages. The plot in itself is simple enough, yet the actual goal of the protagonist is not revealed until half way through the story and this is good, although the first half reads like a sandbox type of game in the vein of Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. This does get tiresome at times as it feels like Cassius only moves from place to place aimlessly, but as it advances his agenda and reasons become clear, and this is done in a very clever way. Though the Republic as such is never really revealed the history of Scipio is dealt with and the reader is privy to the background of the gangs on the island. Scipio, home to those rejected by society on other islands, becomes a representation of nations today where the government is no more than a faceless puppet and those who actually rule threaten to tear it apart due to their own petty personalities and egos. Cassius becomes a kind of vigilante in the den of corruption and violence, a representative of the people, the anti hero reminiscent of the old hard boiled detective of yore. As such he isn’t all powerful, he may be a great spellcaster, but he is often injured or hurt and this way he retains his humanity and Panzo manages to keep the suspension of disbelief intact.
There is so much that is good in The Burning Isle, from its language, to its setting and to the character development. We recognize the tropes, the people, the intrigue and the setting, but from different places. It’s all so familiar, yet we have seldom witnessed it in this constellation and that is what makes it unique and a great read.
Publisher: Dreaming Big Publications
Books based on role playing games are not unheard of, they might be less common today, or less of an intricate part of the fantasy genre as they were in the heyday of Forgotten Realms or DragonLance, but one does come across the odd Warhammer 40k books and for what its worth they are fairly decent. Plushinomicon is one such book, a collection of short tales set in the fantastical world of Teddy Bear Island. Teddy Bear Island is an RPG created by Orcs Unlimited and was created through a Kickstarter campaign. The world of Teddy Bear Island is very much like any old fantasy world, filled with the same old creatures one might encounter in Dungeons and Dragons like elfs, dwarfs or orcs. It is also filled with something different, something very different; stuffed animal zombies and they all live on the island, once created by a Fluffomancer. As a role playing game this concept does open up to several interesting possibilities and certainly hilarious problem solving scenarios.
Plushinomicon is in short a collection of ten short stories by a variety of authors and among them even the editor herself. The stories all center around Teddy Bear Island, it might be about getting there for one reason or another and adventures on the very isle itself. There is a wide variety of characters all typical heroes that are easily recognizable to those familiar with the fantasy genre.
It is futile to try to recap the short stories within the pages of Plushinomicon and they might just be directed to those who have played the game or who may be interested in doing so. Most of the stories are structured the same way and with a minimal amount of intrigue, in short, they are very quick reads that don’t challenge the reader at all and it comes across more like a collection of adventures that the authors have played through themselves and found funny enough to share. Unfortunately the authors aren’t given enough space to create compelling tales to excite and scare the reader and that is one of the big downfalls of this collection. Of course there is some understanding that this is all based in a strange world that maybe isn’t supposed to be taken so seriously, but there is still an overwhelming feeling that more could have been done.
Though the prospect of villainous zombie plushies sound like an entertaining way to spend some time these stories are not close to other RPG based counter parts and one would most likely be served better to pick up a DragonLance or Forgotten Realms.
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.
Series: Part one in The Ellderet Series
Publisher: Tomes & Coffee Press
Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer, one of the last of his kind. As such he has been gifted with certain necronomic abilities like unwillingly making objects rot or decay, raising and speaking to the dead. The Deadbringers in this world have all been eradicated due to these abilities by the so called Sanctifiers and it is prudent for Kira to mask his true form. Therefore he works as a mortician, the perfect occupation for someone with his skills, in the city of Opulancae with his uncle Eutau. Eutau is the one who keeps Kira’s secret safe through his own contacts with a place called the Bastion, but he is the keeper of a secret of his own.
Kira and his uncle are lured into a trap when trying to resurrect and question a dead woman and as this is happening he reveals what he is. Forced to leave the city Kira and Eutau become hunted by Sanctifiers across the country, the future uncertain.
Markoff has with The Deadbringer managed to build a world with great depth and background. The history the Deadbringers, the Sanctifiers and creatures like Kataru is intriguing and sparks the imagination as does the city of Opulancae and the universe that houses it all. Unfortunately that is where it ends; as a spark. Markoff tries to cram to much into this first book without delving into any of it. The story of Kira Vidal, a person whose name indicates it to be a woman at first read, is lost in a treacle of story making progress like dragging oneself through mud. The story is promising enough initially and sets a pace early on that captures the reader, but this is halted ones the chase begins. Hints at certain events or significant facts are dropped at regular intervals and that is all well and good, but there is never anything to hook the reader to these things. It peaks ones interest, but not is given to satiate the hunger and making the reader want to proceed.
The writing style is also on the wordy side and it is easy to get lost in odd sentences and overambitious use of words. One rarely becomes invested in the characters and when tragedy befalls them one does not care, this coupled with the fact that focus is switched from Kira and Eutau to the Sanctifiers who hunt them is quite confusing. More is said about the apparent antagonists than the hero. This also adds to the sensation of becoming tired while reading the tale and in the end it hurts what could have been quite a good book.
-C. Marry Hultman
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