Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P Beaulieu
I completed Twelve Kings a couple of days ago and still feel a bit blown away to be honest. This was a great read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It gets off to a gripping start and then continues to grip you for the rest of the story. I kid you not, when this arrived my first thought was ‘how many pages!!’. When I completed it – my first thought was ‘Are you sure there were that many pages – I want more??’ This is without doubt an epic story. It brings to us a great protagonist and it’s set in a world that is simply fascinating to read about. I loved this book and my only regret is that I now have to wait for the second in series! Dark Magic, Immortals, Undead, Secrets and one young woman trying to uncover her own destiny.
I don’t know if I really want to discuss the plot – Twelve Kings is a deeply layered book, full of mystery and one of the really enjoyable aspects of the story, for me, was the way things were gradually revealed to the reader. I suppose the main thrust of the plot is one of a powerful city, ruled by cruel (and immortal) Kings. Understandably the people wish to rid themselves of these tyrants but years of oppression have beat most of them into hopeless acquiescence. The Twelve Kings, hundreds of years ago, struck a deal with the Gods. The Kings became the rulers of Sharakhai for which the Gods demanded, and in fact still demand, a blood sacrifice. Of course, it’s considered to be a great honour to be chosen to serve your city in this way – although the screams and protests that can be heard ringing through the City on the holy night (Beht Zha’ir) when these blood sacrifices are chosen would beg to differ. Now, stirring in the shadows is something of a resistance movement. They’re becoming stronger by the day. On top of that we have another element of the story where a man seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and child. Aided by the dark blood magic of his sister-in-law he seeks the murderer. Finally, we have Ceda, a young woman of 19. She hates the Kings and seeks their death. The path of these three are going to cross in a most intriguing fashion.
Okay, plot aside. What did I love about this story. Firstly, the world building. This is no weakly imagined world that relies on purely the strength of imagination of the reader. The author paints a vivid picture of this world. He fills it with spices and colours, he populates it with intriguing characters and he fleshes it out with a rich history and fascinating religious aspects and customs. This is a world of heat and light with shifting sands traversed by boat caravans. A world of deep contrasts with Kings on high who have little in common with the regular people who live, in the large part, in abject poverty.
At the start of the story we’re introduced to Ceda – I admit it, I love this character. She fights in the pits and has gathered a reputation. The people love watching her in these gladiator style games and she’s become something of a favourite. Ceda has lived a tough life. Her mother died at an early age and although she was placed in the care of a guardian after a few years she ran away choosing to live life on the streets. An existence that has turned her into a tough nut. In spite of the tough exterior, Ceda is soft on the inside – she has a particularly soft spot for Emre who has been like her brother out on the streets. They ran in a gang but over the years only Emre and Ceda remain fast friends, looking out for each other and sharing a small home.
In terms of the fantasy elements to the story. Well, clearly there are the Twelve Kings – now immortal and then there’s the backstory of how they came to be in this position. There are the dark magical elements that are revealed during those chapters where Ramahd and Meryam play a part and there are of course the Asirim – I don’t quite know how to describe them really, they’re the undead creatures who reap the harvest for the next blood sacrifice. They are scary critters indeed and you can almost feel a chill fall over the world like a dark cloud whenever they enter the story. There are prophecies to be fullfilled here, secrets to be uncovered and memories long since forgotten to be re invoked.
One of my favourite aspects of the world building is the chapters that take you back in years to reveal a fascinating aspect in Ceda’s history. I loved these, they could have the effect of pulling you out of the story and I admit that in some stories that’s exactly what happens but here these extra chapters really work well. Not only do they give you a great insight into Ceda but they’re always necessary to the story. These are not to be skimmed over – they’re all important chapters with stories of relevance to the unfolding plot.
So, all in all, Great world building. A fascinating and tightly written plot that reveals new secrets along the way and ends on a winning note. Characters that you can really care about, particularly Ceda – who isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes and she’s frankly not always right with her assumptions – but she’s still fantastic to read about. And, great writing. I haven’t read this author before but on the strength of this novel that’s something that I intend to rectify.
A positively gripping opening, a wonderful story, vivid setting and an equally gripping finale. Bring on No.2 please.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book to readers of epic fantasy – it’s simply wonderful and compelling to read.
I received a copy courtesy of the author and I’m so pleased to have received this book for review. The above is my own opinion.
Now check out both these amazing covers – I can’t choose between them. I love the vibrancy and colour of the first plus the imagery of the girl walking alone through the thorns. The second is absolutely gorgeous and amazing in scope and detail: