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.
“Tonight the city was boneyard quiet. Tonight the city was boneyard still. For this was the night of the reaping, the night the asirim would steal into the city like dark hounds, baying and hunting for souls.”
I honestly had no idea what to expect going into this one. I had never before read a Bradley P Beaulieu novel and I hadn’t really heard many people talk about this series. However, I can say with confidence that Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is a really good first book in a 6 book series with a fantastic blend of intriguing mystery, excellent characterization, high stakes action, and an engrossingly atmospheric setting.
When I first started reading this book I was immediately captured by the unique world. Fantasy in general is getting more diverse, but I still have read mostly epic fantasy in a European type setting. This was the first epic fantasy that I have read where the entirety of the world is Middle Eastern inspired and it was such a treat. Beaulieu weaves his world in such a way that it makes the worldbuilding a work of art. His prose makes you feel the desert sand beneath your feet, the sun on your face, and the tension of this city that is ruled over by 12 tyrants. It was fascinating to learn of the history and culture of this desert oasis known as Sharakhai. Not to mention, there were boats that could traverse the Great Shangazi desert. I repeat, sand boats! So cool!
“Rest will he, ’Neath twisted tree
’Til death by scion’s hand
By Nalamae’s tears, And godly fears
Shall kindred reach dark land.”
Another one of my favorite parts of the story was the mystery aspect. Without getting into spoilers, our main protagonist Ceda has it out for the 12 kings that rule Sharakhai. The problem is, the gods have blessed these 12 kings with powers that have not only enabled them to live over 400 years without aging, but other powers that make them really hard to kill. Ceda finds out that there may be a way to kill each one, but its gonna take some dangerous detective work and forbidden research to figure out each King’s weakness. I really enjoyed this mystery that was interwoven throughout the story because there was always an air of tension and risk every time Ceda got closer to answering this most important question. It also kept me engaged by making me wonder what the answer would end up being. Very well done.
The one thing I did kind of struggle with were the interludes delving into Ceda and her best friend Emre’s past. I do believe the information in the interludes was necessary for character development of both Emre and Ceda, as well as the development of the world. However, I couldn’t help but kind of sigh a bit every time there was an interlude. I think this was a combination of me being so into the present day plot that I didn’t want to stop, but I also think that the interludes could have been condensed to a smaller size and they still would have had the same if not more of an effect.
“The best stories thrived when they contained a kernel of truth. One just needed to know how to prune the falsities and deceits to find the truth lying at their shared center.”
The action was very well done and I loved the tradition that everyone in Sharakhai knows how to use a weapon from an early age. Many action scenes were heightened because of this knowledge because there was often a possibility of our protagonist fighting someone that could defeat them. This is a warrior people that are used to the harsh realities of the desert and it showed. There is even a gladiator type arena that reminded me of some of the fights in the movie Gladiator, but with its own twist.
I would not call the plot fast paced, but I will say that there was always something to keep my interest. The mystery of the 12 kings, tension in relationships, high stakes action scenes, and the multiple factions vying for power all kept me intrigued and invested in the story. Beaulieu did a really good job of pacing this novel so it never felt like it dragged or was overly descriptive.
The characters were very well done as well. Ceda is a compelling character who is easy to root for. She is incredibly good with a blade and doesn’t take crap from anyone. Emre is a complex character with a hard past and a desire to see justice restored to Sharakhai by any means necessary. Ceda is the POV for most of the story, with Emre and a few others popping up here and there to bring in a different perspective. There wasn’t one POV in this book that I didn’t enjoy. There are so many good and intriguing characters in this one, you’ll just have to read and find out about them!
Finally, I want to focus on my absolute favorite part of this novel and that is the atmosphere. I touched on this a little bit earlier, but Beaulieu writes in such a way that you truly feel like you are in Sharakhai watching these events unfold. The Kings, the Asirim, the Blade Maidens, and the Moonless Host all felt very real and each one had an important role to play in the story. Their was such an air of mystery, of secrets untold, forbidden magic, and ancient malice. I loved it!
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was well worth the read and I definitely recommend that you give it a try if it sounds at all interesting to you. I will be starting the sequel, With Blood Upon The Sand, immediately!