My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Veil of Spears is the third full-length novel in the Song of Shattered Sands series by author Bradley P. Beaulieu, which began with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The author has created a setting for the ages, akin to Hogwart’s, Randland, and Middle Earth, but I would argue Sharakhai is even better because at the heart of this series is a central character who is deeper and more complex than Harry, Rand al’Thor, or Frodo. There is a supporting cast of nobles, “gutter wrens,” Blade Maidens, revolutionaries, monsters, and various mentors, but Ceda and her quest to understand her origins remains the central driving force behind this series. If this book disappoints in any way, it’s that there is not enough time with Ceda.
After the Night of Endless Swords at the end of With Blood Upon the Sand, Ceda finds herself in the desert bound to an asir named Kerim, who helped her kill the King Mesut, and in possession of a bracelet containing the souls of other asirim. The chapters alternate across the main POV characters from there, each one picking up where the last book left off, and it’s clear that very little time has passed. The action pretty much picks up from there. The subplots of the erekh and blood magic become more prominent, as does the conflict between the gods and goddesses. The pace is solid throughout, with plenty of twists and turns.
The rapid alternation of point-of-view makes this book much closer in style to some other works in recent fantasy, like The Dragon’s Legacy, but Beaulieu pulls it off with quite a bit more grace than George R.R. Martin and others. POV-hopping is unavoidable as the story becomes more complex, but my biggest complaint is that I’m mostly interested in Ceda and her story, and sometimes it was hard for me to see what the others had to do with her. This was easily remedied by reading the book at long stretches of 100 pages or more (luckily, I was traveling).
This book also included quite a bit more recap than the second book. Despite the recap of the earlier novels, there was little recap of material that is apparently in some of the novellas (which I haven’t read). I didn’t quite pick up on that at first, but if you’re willing to charge ahead, the backstory is not that important. With so much focus on the supporting characters, this book doesn’t include the flashbacks that the first two did. I noticed the difference, but there was really so much action in this book, that it doesn’t detract from the story.
Nevertheless, this story builds from the pick-up-the-pieces approach of early chapters and piles on more twists and turns that I never expected. I was really held in suspense. Again and again the characters get into situations that look impossible to get out of. I was really impressed with how the author gave out enough information without wearing down the suspense at all. There are so many unanswered questions at the end of this book, and only a few answered, that this series should continue to build suspense until the final chapter of the last book.
What’s really great is the growth of the main character: she appears to be a very simple person at the beginning of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, who is a street rat, totally separate from the world of the kings. Over these three books, however, she has built into a person who is at the center of the great, centuries-old conflict over the Shangazi desert, and it’s all believable. She is strong but she has a heart, she is intelligent without being overbearing, and she is brave without being perfect. She’s not someone I would want to spend time with, but she is someone I love to read about.