The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is an intensely satisfying and captivating read and a great ending to this series. Beaulieu has crafted an incredibly mature and complex story that seemingly never takes the easy way out. It was refreshing to experience characters that have changes of heart, who get things wrong and even at times, lead the reader completely astray with their conjecture.
For me this book was a much truer reflection of humanity, which is more of a tangled web rather than a single thread. At times the story felt messy and unclear but I appreciated this for the complexity and touch of realism it gave.
While The Winds of Khalakovo dealt primarily with the politicking and conflict between and within the Grand Duchy and the Maharrat, The Straits of Galahesh and then more so The Flames of Shadam Khoreh not only bring more factions to the party, but begin to deal with the fate of the world on a grand, cosmic level - very similarly to Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. While I felt this was a great and natural progression for the story, I did miss the days of Winds, which I think is by far the best installment in this series. I would have been quite satisfied the remain in the realm of the courts of Anuskaya and seeing how that panned out, but instead the story takes vast leaps and bounds into infinitely bigger territory.
This is where it falls down a little for me. The protagonists in this series are great; Nikandr, Atiana, Nasim, Styophan, all consistent and well formed. However it is the secondary characters and antagonists that remain thoroughly confusing to me. Sukharam, Kaleh, Sariya, Bahett, Ushai ... all are so ill-defined that it actually seems that their presence is required only as plot devices when the need arises. Their motivations and allegiances change more often than the Prime Minister of Australia does and with very little justification. One moment Kaleh is a ruthless killer supporting Muqallad and Sariya and then she isn't and then she is and then she's is an innocent girl who's siding with the good guys ... Admittedly in some of these examples the characters are playing a ruse, but still. I mean, what the hell Ushai? WHAT IS YOUR DEAL!?
I swear some characters are brought along for the ride just to be petulant and/or obtuse.
This brings about problems in the story that I mentioned in my review of Straits, where it seems like Beaulieu has only a tentative grip on the hugely multifaceted magic system and tends to cut corners to position things where he needs them.
Taking all that into consideration, Flames is still brilliant and a credit to the fantasy genre. There are many strengths in this book I haven't even touched on (mostly because I brought them up in reviews of the two prequels) such as the exquisite use of language and names, impressive world-building and incredibly rich cultures that have been ingrained in the characters and story.
I will definitely be reading more of Beaulieu and you should too!