Tag: Bradley Beaulieu

The Straits of Galahesh

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I really enjoyed nearly all of this book, but the climax of the book soured much of it for me. I have not read the third book, the Flames of Shadam Koresh, and I am sure once I read it I will change my mind, but it feels like the ending for this book was pure artifice and that everything should have ended in the climax here.

I’ll dive into what aggravated me. In the last ¼th of the book, one of the major antagonists suddenly was revealed to have an unstoppable super power that no one could defend against, until suddenly someone could defend against it. It felt like a lazy way to get everything to happen that the author needed to happen for the final scene, as if characters being driven by their actual motivations / flaws weren’t enough to get exactly what the author wanted, so they just pulled the strings, moving the puppets around jerkily such that it becomes clear they’re puppets and not characters. That breaking of suspension of disbelief really hurt the ending for me.

Phew, now with that aside, the first ¾ of the book were on balance pretty good, although I do admit to enjoying Atiana and Nikandr’s chapters more than Nasim. I found the writing and point of view more engaging. I did have a problem with the sheer amount of twists, turns, betrayals, and reversals. The first third of the book had some very well done plot twists, but after that the density seems to just increase, and even though well done, simply due to the density of them, they just become tired. So when something dramatic and unexpected happens in the climax of the book, I didn’t go “WOAH WHAAAAAAAT HOLY CRAP”, I thought “Huuuuh. Neat. Well, I bet something will undo what just happened within 20 pages.” There is also a problem with the protagonists implementing  straightforward and reactive plans, while the antagonists are the masterminds with plans that have wheels spinning within wheels. As a result, anything the protagonists do is usually either “part of the villain’s plan,” or reacting to something irrelevant and so anything they achieve will be either undone or rendered irrelevant within 50 pages. As a result, the investment you have in seeing characters succeed is lessened, as it’s like Charlie Brown and the football. You just know that little girl is going to pull the football away and he’s going to stumble and fall.

And yet, I kept reading, and grumbling aside, enjoyed what I read. Putting aside the plot, the amazing worldbuilding was still there, and the character development was also very well done. Nearly every Duchy character we saw in the first book has changed drastically in the five years since the Winds of Khalakovo, and in ways that are believable, logical, and true to the characters’ nature. That feels rare to me, and to see it done so well was really great.

The magical metaphysics were still unclear to me, as I am still not clear whether there is any clear explanation for all the various the times a character arbitrarily cannot summon a hezhan when it would be very useful to do so. And while it is unclear how the Al-Aquim can do seemingly unique magic, their status as the Al-Aquim kinda grants them a pass!

Oh, and the glossary – it froze my kindle with its awesomeness! Once I got it rebooted, it was great to have all the terms in one place, not because I needed to look up any of them (again, Beaulieu is great with providing enough context to understand the functional use of a term, letting you build connotations from the sound of the word and its associations), but just to glory in it all.

One thing I really liked about the worldbuilding in the first book was the the cultural bent of the Cyrillic-feeling Duchy relative to the more Arabic Aramahn and the Maharrat cultures. The Straits of Galahesh does one better by throwing in Yrstanla’s Turkish-inspired culture, and seeing the geopolitical counterbalance between the Grand Duchy’s internal struggles and the external struggle with Yrstanla was really great.

For now though, as much as I enjoyed the first two books, I will take a breather to read some lighter fare, and then dive into the Flames of Shadam Koresh after the weekend.

COVER ART REVIEW: I definitely checked this out before reading the book, and gotta say, this kind of thing happens a lot in this book! I like the green coat and the walrus-bone powder shells on the bandolier, and the composition is great, but I wish the background colors were more muted. The jumper’s hair, eyebrows, and mustache-goatee in combination also made me snort.

 

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The Winds of Khalakovo

 

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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.