Review – Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (The Song of Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Reviewed by: E

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.
This blurb came from Goodreads

I was looking for something new to read and remembered I had received a couple of packages in the mail and I didn’t remember what was in them. I opened one and saw the cover of Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and remembered I thought the blurb was interesting so I requested a copy. I settled in to read and quickly discovered I found this story as interesting as the blurb.

Sharakhai seemed to be the center of everything, formed originally as a temporary resting/trading spot for the desert nomads who needed to remain in one place to heal and slowly temporary became permanent until most paths in the desert led to or from Sharakhai as caravans brought goods and foods from across the land. Like any city it also contained different levels of society, affluence, politics, and intrigue. Ruled by twelve immortal kings who protected by the Blade Maidens, their daughters, the Silver Spears, and the asirim ruled absolutely without any appearance of mercy or compassion. Not all were fans of living under the Twelve Kings but any hint or sign of rebellion was ruthlessly stamped out along with an example lesson for any who thought to resist. Yet their cruelty wasn’t enough to stop the schemes and plots.

Ceda grew up in Sharakhai, first living and training with her mother as they moved from place to place and then mostly on the streets after her mother’s death. She really lived for revenge against the Kings for their role in her mother’s death. To survive and to gain knowledge she fought in the pits, ran messages/deliveries, and taught others how to fight but as the story unfolded Ceda became much more. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is mostly told by Ceda in a series of alternating present day events and flashbacks as she starts to put the pieces of her past together with what she learns in the present. The rest of the story was told from a few other key people whose plans/actions intersected and sometimes interfered with Ceda’s.

I enjoyed both the slow unfolding and discovery of who Ceda really was along with learning some of the secrets of Sharakhai and its people but so much was still left unknown. As Ceda became more and more involved in the murky underground politics, motivations and personalities which originally appeared rather straightforward became complex and less clear. When Twelve Kings in Sharakhai ended I was no longer sure who was really on Ceda’s side for Ceda herself or who appeared to assist her but in support of an ulterior motive. I was also left thinking it is almost going to be a race between the different factions to see who is able to get to the Kings first and what they intended to do when they got there.

While I enjoyed reading Twelve Kings in Sharakhai there were a few points when I felt slightly jarred from the story and one instance when I thought a key thread was suddenly dropped. The jarring occurred towards the beginning before it seemed like Ceda’s characterization smoothed out. I am putting the key thread under spoiler tags because it will take away some of the mystique in the first two-thirds of the story.[spoiler]Ceda, as The White Wolf, pit fighter suffers a defeat and after her first/only defeat doesn’t return to the pit. I strongly feel that someone with her drive would insist on returning and fighting again if only to prove she could still win for the sake of the persona she created.[/spoiler] Even with these issues, I didn’t think they overly detracted from my reading experience since I immediately went to Beaulieu’s website to see what he had upcoming and already available.

I give Twelve Kings in Sharakhai a B/B-

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