In the cramped west end of Sharakhai, the Amber Jewel of the Desert, Çeda fights in the pits to scrape a living. She, like so many in the city, pray for the downfall of the cruel, immortal Kings of Sharakhai, but she’s never been able to do anything about it. This all changes when she goes out on the night of Beht Zha’ir, the holy night when all are forbidden from walking the streets. It’s the night that the asirim, the powerful yet wretched creatures that protect the Kings from all who would stand against them, wander the city and take tribute. It is then that one of the asirim, a pitiful creature who wears a golden crown, stops Çeda and whispers long forgotten words into her ear. Çeda has heard those words before, in a book left to her by her mother, and it is through that one peculiar link that she begins to find hidden riddles left by her mother.
As Çeda begins to unlock the mysteries of that fateful night, she realizes that the very origin of the asirim and the dark bargain the Kings made with the gods of the desert to secure them may be the very key she needs to throw off the iron grip the Kings have had over Sharakhai. And yet the Kings are no fools-they’ve ruled the Shangazi for four hundred years for good reason, and they have not been idle. As Çeda digs into their past, and the Kings come closer and closer to unmasking her, Çeda must decide if she’s ready to face them once and for all.
Bradley P. Beaulieu is an author who I’ve been wanting to read for a while so that when I saw Twelve Kings on Amazon when I was in France over the summer as part of Gollancz’ pre-ordering ebooks for £1.99 deal and I snapped it up without hesitation. When it was released, I eagerly dove into it looking for a good new fantasy novel, and the book didn’t disappoint, serving up as one of the better releases of the year in the genre, making use of an imaginative world that isn’t just your standard medieval, Game of Thrones inspired fantasy. It’s different, original and unique, with a fantastic backdrop and some great characters that keep the novel fresh and engaging.
The desert city of Sharakhai has to be one of the most captivating locations that I’ve read in a fantasy book, immersed in so much detail. It’s surrounded not by water or grass but by sand, and serves as a trade centre for visitors from across the world. It’s an interesting backdrop for a story and is fully brought to life here as we get a fantastic sense of world building brought about by Beaulieu, who captures the city in all its glory. However, the city itself is not quite an ideal home, for the Twelve Kings have ruled its land for four hundred years, immortal and cruel. Most can only pray for their destruction, as to do much more would only invite destruction. The book hones in on one major protagonist over the course of the novel, the well developed Çeda who serves as a way into this world. Having gone through an interesting background, she knows the cruelty of the Kings all too well, with them being responsible for her mother’s death. Determined to take down the Kings, she may find answers in a book left from her mother, that hold mysterious, enigmatic writings, and only by answering the puzzles can she learn more about its contents.
The rich mythology present in Twelve Kings is fantastic, as Beaulieu really handles everything well. However, the writer never lets any of it overshadow the characters, and although there are others involved, the main focus is on Çeda. If you like the character, then chances are, you’ll like the book, because even though the pacing is a tad inconsistent at times, there are draws in pretty much every other area, and there are even a couple of twists that work fantastically within the novel, and the fact that Beaulieu keeps Çeda at the heart of the book really works, making the reader more likely to care about the character given the amount of time the author gets to flesh out her character.
Twelve Kings feels like it sets up a series and given what we’ve seen, it serves as a teaser into the rich and imaginative world that Beaulieu has to offer. He’s one of the few authors who actually manages to handle flashbacks, which are present, well, weaving them into the story to enhance it rather than simply provide chapter breaks. Yes, it may not quite be perfect, with the pacing issues that the book has preventing it from being a flawless book, it is still a very, very good one that has created a world I can’t wait to return to. Hopefully, the follow up, With Blood Upon The Sand will be just as good.