Book Review: Twelve Kings

Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu, The Song of the Shattered Sands #1 Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

I have been reading a lot of Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy stories over the last few weeks, I was really looking forward to reading a more fantasy themed book, so when relief came in the form of Twelve Kings I couldn't say no. Bradley Beaulieu is best known for his other fantasy series Lays of Anuskaya which is something completely different than Twelve Kings. Twelve Kings could well be the one of the more original fantasy books that will be published this year. 

Directly from the start the focus in Twelve Kings is on Ceda, a young girl of 19 years old, but her experience makes her that much older. SHe lives in the sprawling city of Sharakhai, not in the beautiful parts of it though, no in the slums, where she works in the pits as a cunning fighter. When Ceda was young she lost her mother, the infamous twelve Kings of Sharakhai killed her. From that point onwards Ceda swore that she would get her revenge. Just a short side note on what these Kings are, over 400 years ago Sharakhai facing a doom scenario and the only way to save it was that the twelve Kings (rulers of each of the twelve tribes) called in the favors of the desert Gods. But everythings comes at a price and the desert Gods wanted blood scarifices, these were given but the people who gave them turned into the feared Asirim, undead zombie like creatures. And they don't stay in hiding, every 6 weeks orso they come to life in the city and take new blood sacrifices to keep the Gods at peace... Ceda's mother was involved in finding out the truth and fighting against the Kings, but as you know, she didn't make it.  Now back to Ceda, on day when she is done fighting in the pits, Osman, a friend of hers has a task. Ceda is to deliver a package on the night that the Asirim rise, on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir, here Ceda life will change once and forever as one of the Asirim tells something to her, something that she read about in one of her mothers books. Slowly Ceda starts to collect more and more pieces of the puzzle that start to make a whole... Even if you are a mighty King, you will always have to find that weakness and with the clever, sharp and quick mind that Ceda has, those Kings well they better watch their steps. 

Not only does Twelve Kings feature this present storyline, alternating every few chapters is a past storyline that slowly builds up to the present one. Here you are taken back to Ceda's earlier years. This alternating between timelines is always a tricky one for me, do it to much and the story looses coherency, especially with the page count Twelve Kings has just over 700, it's is quite a lot to remember. Luckily Bradley Beaulieu does it rather delicate keeping the telling in the past to a minimum only showing the essential things. It does help greatly to build a sense around the story and around Ceda's character.

There are two things for which I have to praise Bradley Beaulieu. The first is the characterization of Ceda's character. From the first sentence, I know you will be falling for her. The way that Bradley Beaulieu voices her character, it is really unique. She hasn't had the best of lives so far but manages and does what she sees best and needs to do in order to survive. She has this air of innocence around her character, but when you read more about her, the truth surfaces and she isn't called The White Wolf for nothing in the pits. This whole book is a personal journey of Ceda and with every page you see just how much several things that happened because her mother passed away have influenced her on a much larger scale. Ceda discovers a lot as well and seeing her handle some difficult situations only make her shine that much more. 

The second thing where Twelve Kings get another strong point from is the world building. I am a big fan of stories that take place in desert. Twelve Kings is One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights, but a lot darker. As I already mentioned the book is quite long, and Bradley Beaulieu keeps on explaining and telling more about his story as it goes, and it never tires. There is something mightily interesting in the way that the world of Sharakhai functions, there is this air of mystery cast over it. You never know when one of the Kings might catch wind of what Ceda and the Moonless Host (a group of people who are opposing the Kings) are doing and when they retaliate. Furthermore you also learn that these Kings hold tremendous powers but you never fully learn just what they are capable of and this again adds that mysterious air to the mixture. Added to this come some very well choreographed fighting scenes in the pits and outside it. All in all really a world that will stick with you for a long time. 

When you look at many different elements and at the whole of the story, Twelve Kings stand out head above shoulders. Bradley Beaulieu shows that he has a lot in store, down from the character of Ceda which is a very interesting character to say the least. I was captured by her from the start but as her whole backstory started to develop she really grew on me, it is such a refined backstory, I couldn't find any fault anywhere. Added to this comes a world that well, WOW, it packs so much atmosphere. from the descriptions of a wingle well in the middle of a market place down to the bigger pictures of the sprawling city of Sharakhai and the epic battle scenes it just felt alive. You know this book, even with the darker setting it features is a definite pick me upper, once you read this book, you will be wanting to read the sequel immediately. A beautiful richly imagined story that will end high in my top 2015 list for sure. 

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