The Song of Shattered Sands continues…
With Blood Upon the Sand is the second novel in the Song of The Shattered Sands series. Two novellas have been published, Of Sand and Malice Made and In the Village Where Brightwine Flows: A Shattered Sands Novella, along with the first novel in the series Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The third novel of a projected four, A Veil of Spears is due out next month. This is a deeply-characterized series that focuses on Ceda, a very capable young woman wrapped up in an intense drama. The city of Sharakhai in the heart of the Shangazi desert is filled with magic and haunted by its own past. The influences on this world are primarily near-Eastern or Central Asian, and it makes for an interesting mix of magical elements. There is not just one “magic system” there are many groups vying for control of Sharakhai, and many gods and goddesses who are embroiled in a conflict that goes back hundreds of years. Ceda is caught up in this conflict by her heritage and the circumstances she grew up in, desperate to make sense of her own life, and to save the heritage of the Shangazi’s Thirteenth Tribe. This book is rich with psychological, interpersonal, spiritual, and political conflict, and deals with mature literary topics in an entertaining and action-packed plot.
This book starts with Ceda training in an elite group of guards, the Blade Maidens, who she joined in the first book. Ceda has not given up her grand plan to assassinate the Kings of Sharakhai, whose magic is starting to dwindle. She discovers some secret allies inside and outside the palace of the kings, and a new recruit, Yndris, becomes a rival she must work with if she is going to conceal her grander scheme. The book spends a lot of time with secondary characters, such as Emre, Ceda’s scholar friend Davud, Ramahd Amansir, and the villain Hamzakiir, so what Ceda is dealing with goes way beyond her own mission. There is a whole world at stake.
These are great books. I’m really not a devourer of current books, especially not series, but this one has good writing, an interesting setting, and above all characters that are believable and complex through-and-through. The city itself is a great character and Beaulieu never disappoints when he paints a picture of the city of Sharakhai. It’s a setting, like Hogwarts, Randland, Middle Earth, or Pern, that will live on, and probably plague the author if he tries to leave it behind. Although Ceda is a fighter by trade, she is a complex and interesting character who isn’t afraid to face up to her own flaws.
There are no Mary Sue problems here: Ceda is only as capable as she trains to be, and although she’s not as neurotic as some protagonists, she does hold herself back with her psychological wounds. A few scenes in With Blood Upon The Sand really emphasize this and the whole plot is shaped by Ceda’s problems. The setting and the rich characterization leads me to say this is a whole other class of fantasy writing: it is not simply action, and it is not character-oriented to the detriment of plot in the slightest. This book series is in a class by itself, and I hope the trend toward character-rich fantasy only continues.
I really enjoyed this book for the strength of the setting and the characters, but as far as plot goes it’s definitely a middle book, not as tight as Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. I highly recommend it, and I’m very excited for A Veil of Spears later this year. I will not wait for someone to buy it for me this time. There is nothing that completely kills this book, but I would give it 3.5 stars since especially compared to the first book, which has the advantage of being a first book, the plot is less straightforward, and more interested in demonstrating complexity than resolving anything.
There are a few scenes that I thought just didn’t make sense or weren’t worth having there. There really were too many sex scenes (of all the things to get tired of!) and I didn’t think they added much other than a little titillation. Some things that I thought were out-of-character for Ceda in Book 1 were revealed to be more important in this book. I did like how much we got of the secondary characters, although not much was resolved for them either. I always wanted to get back to Ceda and see how her relationships were going to develop. Although the lack of “resolution” is prominent, there is a lot of revelation. We learn a lot more about how the kings do their thing, and by the end a lot has changed.
I highly recommend this book with the caveat that it’s a middle book and I thought it could have been shorter. It didn’t quite hold me the way Twelve Kings did, but Ceda definitely has her hooks in me. I want to see what happens with her next. I don’t think you can beat the worldbuilding that M. Beaulieu has done with Sharakhai. Coupled with his grasp of character, I really don’t think there’s much better out there these days. If there is, I haven’t read it.