Friday, June 28, 2013

REVIEW: The Flames of Shadam Khoreh by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Concisely: this story is brilliant and you should definitely read the entire trilogy.

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!

Monday, June 10, 2013

REVIEW: The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley P. Beaulieu

It really took me a long time to get through this, not because of the book itself but because of my lack of reading time due to my various choreographic projects. But I finally found some free time this weekend and polished it off.

After reading and loving The Winds of Khalakovo I had high expectations for The Straits of Galahesh, some of which were met and some not. The brilliant things about this book were so easy to overlook because they resumed seamlessly from where they left off in Winds and because of the confident manner in which Beaulieu employed them.

The use of Russian culture and language was once again an absolute highlight, allowing this series to completely standout from a genre that is all about inventing a plethora or original place and character names. Unlike Winds, I found I was completely across the entire cast of characters and even most of the duchies/islands/cities/mountains/palotzas, which I have to admit made the second installment in the trilogy a lot easier to maneuver through.

The world of Straits is not described with great depth, yet it is still incredibly rich and well built and like most elements of the series, fresh. Built into the geography itself is (one of) the magic systems that I also found intriguing - matriarchs of each royal family who can enter the aether, which along with the spires, assist with the flight of the airships.

The story crafted by Beaulieu in Straits is complex, original, captivating and successful on many levels, however for me there were some things that really let it down. I have to preface this by saying that I, or my reading and understanding, may possibly be to blame and I stand ready to be corrected!

It seemed to be that Beaulieu had some pretty big plot holes in this one - well, not so much holes as parts that were totally contradictory or made little logical sense. Of course we take into consideration that magic is, well, magic and in essence is mysterious and unexplainable. But that's no get out of jail free. Worst of all were some examples where Beaulieu *seemed* to demonstrate that he didn't have a real grasp over elements of his own story.

The role of the akhoz was always dubious. They were created to stabilise the rift over Ghayavand, but the theory behind this is never explained at all and they then became a multipurpose tool and carted out for this and that ceremony. Then there is a conveniently easy ritual between Khamal and an akhoz which has such a huge effect with very little reasoning behind it. Yet (without giving too much away) when Sariya and Muqallad perform the same ritual with Nasim (a choice in itself that has no logic) it has an outcome that does not align with Khamal's at all. 

There are even just silly little things, like when one protagonist has to kill someone to achieve his goal, even though it is plain to every character in the scene that if he waited approximately 3.4 seconds longer, it wouldn't actually be necessary. It's OK though, because apparently everyone who is killed can be magically unkilled and keep living a little longer. Even more ridiculous is the fact that this protagonist develops the ability to stop time and somehow doesn't kill the bad guy who is an arms length away. But the bad guys can control anyone's mind at will ... they just choose not to sometimes ...

It's stuff like that that belongs in bad, overpriced Hollywood fantasy epics. It makes my blood boil.

Other than that I was still very confused about a few things, chiefly Sariya's true intentions and Muqallad's goals, but I think some of that came down to both my understanding of the text and Beaulieu's intentional vagueness (ie, saving it for later). There were a lot of twists and double-crossing which was great and made for a keep-you-guessing plot, but I don't feel like it was concluded very well.

While these provided some epic eye-roll moments for me, I still really enjoyed the essential story and craftsmanship of Straits and I was never even close to a moment where I was prepared to give up or anything of the like. 

I'm now a total BPB fan and will be moving straight onto The Flames of Shadam Khoreh to finish of the series. I would totally recommend that all fantasy fans give this series a go, just be prepared for some irksome moments if you're an anally retentive want-to-know-it-all like me!