Title: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai
Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu
Series: Song of the Shattered Sands #1
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
The Overview: 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.
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. -Goodreads
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is a book I’ve had high on my priority list ever since that enticing cover came across my radar in 2015. The cover is actually a pretty good indication of what to expect from this book – excellent attention to world-building and a main character determined to shake up the status quo using swordsmanship and stealth. It was a very entertaining read, but it did leave a few elements on the table.
Pacing was by far the biggest miss for me. This book is riddled with flashbacks that, while interesting, effectively killed momentum for the main story. Actual forward plot advancement took forever. It’s only saving grace was that the flashbacks contained a good number of “reveals” that I think were supposed to serve as plot advancing tools (where the story moves forward in concept instead of action), but I think it could’ve done with far fewer (as it was, I occasionally got confused and forgot which timeframe I was reading and had to reorient). Eventually, it all came together, but the lack of momentum made for the type of read I didn’t have qualms setting it aside for other reads.
The characters also lacked a little bit of depth. They had great backstory (as was emphasized practically every other chapter), but never really pulled me in more than surface level. Perhaps this issue was also caused by so many flashbacks taking away time from development. Whatever the case, I’m sitting here really liking the characters but not feeling anything for them.
To that effect, other than the occasional language and sex scenes, both the character profiles and love story came off very YA (okay, maybe a leveled-up YA), but fantasy readers will probably find it a little thin when compared to the likes of Malazan or even Game of Thrones. I actually think Twelve Kings in Sharakhai could be a great recommend for those in that transition between YA and adult Fantasy, as several elements (the setting and fight scenes) reminded me strongly of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series (specifically the prequel, Assassin’s Blade). When I say something “came off YA” I usually mean that in a disparaging way, but in this case I didn’t count it a bad thing.
Overall, this isn’t the strongest I’ve read in the genre, but the world building and story were enough to keep me engaged when the pacing started to lag. Good drop-in details about a new world always goes a long way with me, so I definitely came away from this happy to have read it.
Series status: I liked it, but if it wasn’t for the scheduled buddy read for the sequel I signed up for, I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to continue. Especially since discovering that it’s planned for a six book series instead of what I thought completed as a trilogy. Even so, I’m hopeful for the best in the next one.
Recommendations: I’d hand this to fantasy readers in the mood for something light and creative, or to YA fantasy fans who want a good translation series from Throne of Glass to adult fantasy. The world building was easily the biggest selling point for me, so if you like to immerse in new places, give it a try. :)
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