I really enjoyed The Winds of Khalakovo. The story unfolds on Khalakovo, an archipelago of seven islands, one of nine island kingdoms in the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, all wracked by famines, a wasting plague, and a guerrilla war against the Maharrat. The world is incredibly detailed and incredibly fascinating without being expository, the drama is gripping, the characters are well realized, and the stakes feel real.
The worldbuilding is very dense, in that Beaulieu is not afraid to just go and use characters, concepts, places, social classes, kingdoms, faction names, and professions without any explanation or introduction. This sounds like it should be bad – but it’s not! Beauliu uses the terms in context quite well, so I figured out the functional use of the terms well enough, and I quickly built connotations that helped me figure out the cultural meaning of the terms as well. For example, Landed terms are usually Cyrillic, while the Aramahn and Maharrat use much more Arabic-sounding terms. For example, the characters know what streltsi are, what a sotnik is, what a havaquiram is and how it relates to havahezhan, what ethnic groups Landed and Landless refer to, how the Aramahn fit into Khalakovoan society, etc. On the other hand, figuring out what the Maharrat are up to is something both I as the reader and Nikandr the character struggled with together.
On one hand, the plot often feels harsh, with some overly vindictive, petty characters and willfully blind characters. On the other, the Greek tragedy feel of some moments lends a lot to the feel, with a mixture of the characters’ motivations and flaws driving them to their actions. The plot also has lots of twists, turns, and mysteries, both in terms of the characters figuring things out as well as the reader figuring out the world as they read. Some of the assumptions I made make early on were wrong, and realizing that and reassessing everything on the fly was both somewhat frustrating and really interesting.
One negative aspect of the worldbuilding is that it can be hard to pin down everything that is happening, as there are so many characters, factions, terms, and concepts in play. Since much of my knowledge of the world’s magical physics and political balance was inferred from context and scraps of explanation, often a new phenomenon would upend my understanding. This might be something you are looking for (exhilarating, thrilling), or it might not be (confusing, jarring, disorienting).
Cover Art Review: I actually did not see the cover art until writing this review. (Kindle. And this book actually had the cover art in the .mobi! Not sure how I missed it.) Which is a shame, because I really like this cover art! It nails the windships – a lot of the scenes make a lot more sense having seen this, and as one thing I missed was environmental description, seeing some of the landscape is really nice too.