Review: With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Series: The Song of the Shattered Sands #2
Also by this author: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai
Published by Daw Books on February 7th 2017
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
Also in this series: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it, but with the power of the gods compelling them, they find the yokes around their necks unbreakable.
Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater. After the victory won by the Moonless Host in the Wandering King’s palace, the kings are hungry for blood. They scour the city, ruthless in their quest for revenge. Unrest spreads like a plague, a thing Emre and his new allies in the Moonless Host hope to exploit, but with the kings and their god-given powers, and the Maidens and their deadly ebon blades, there is little hope of doing so.
When Çeda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings. They plot quickly to take advantage of it, but it may all be undone if Çeda cannot learn to navigate the shifting tides of power in Sharakhai and control the growing anger of the asirim that threatens to overwhelm her.
The Shattered Sands trilogy was by far one of my favorite finds of last year. With Blood Upon the Sand continues to deepen the intrigue and entanglements, and displays the harsh desert environment is not the only thing to fear in Sharakhai. It will also take your emotions and bend them to its will, ripping them through fear to excitement, from horror to triumph (or maybe triumph to horror), from sorrow to jealousy, hope, betrayal. Where it lands, I can’t tell you, but be prepared for the roller coaster of events that will evoke a huge range of emotional turmoil and excitement.
I continue to love Çeda as a protagonist. She is fierce not just in battle but also in personality. It’s quite interesting to see her handle life as a Blade Maiden, becoming part of what should be a close knit team, while also still working in secret to take down the Kings. Her every day life and training stands in conflict with what has pretty much been her life’s mission. Çeda is also much more alone in the beginning of this book. Emre, who has always been there for her in the past, is part of the Moonless Host. That alone is hard on her. Add to that, her inability to reach out due to her isolation from her previous life caused by living in the House of Maidens. But Çeda is not without opportunities, and when she sees one, she seizes it with all her might.
The setting and world for this series continues to be unique and fascinating. Çeda learns even more about asirim, those ghastly creatures that serve to protect the kings, and what she discovers is bone chilling. I also have to say, I still love the desert setting. I sometimes find myself sometimes forgetting that ships are sand ships, and when I remember, for some reason that detail just makes me happy.
My only concern with this book is something that could be an issue for some readers but not others. This is a hefty book, as many epic fantasies can be. But for epic fantasies to pull off the heft well, they require a balance. There has to be sufficient character development, world building, action and plot development at a pace that will keep the reader fully engaged for the page length. The story can be fantastic, but if it slows down too much, some readers may lose interest. Some readers love world building, so if it slows down for that, those readers won’t mind as much. Same for the other traits.
As much as I love this story, I did feel like it slowed down a bit around the half way mark. I never felt like that with the first book. While I still really, really enjoyed it, I do have some concern that it is walking that line of feeling somewhat over inflated for certain readers. That said, I can’t look at the story and pick anything that I would want cut, maybe its just a matter of increasing the pace in a few sections to help revive the readers excitement. I can’t say I felt like this one was quite as strong as either Twelve Kings of Sharakhai or the novella Of Sand and Malice Made and my sole reason for that is pacing. In all fairness, this is also a second book, so some of that initial excitement of a brand new world wanes just a little solely because it is not as new as it was in the first one. It may just be that second book syndrome coming in to play a little bit.
Overall though, I still absolutely love this series and can not wait to read the next installment to find out how Çeda’s quest for vengeance pans out. And I can’t leave this review without also throwing a little love for the cover. I absolutely love it and it is perfect for the book/series.
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.