Seldom have I read consecutive books in a series so closely together, but as I explained in my review of book 2, a misunderstanding of what book I was requesting on NetGalley has necessitated such haste. Now, there are advantages: I remembered everything that had happened in the previous book! Nevertheless, I was concerned that diving into A Veil of Spears so soon after the previous book would leave me feeling bored; worse still, I wasn’t sure what kind of review I could muster. The thing about such a long-running series like this is that, after a while, you start to run out of things to say. What am I going to do? Praise the characters again? The careful plotting? The cool worldbuilding? I’m going to try to focus on specifics in this book, without going into spoilers.
Spoilers for previous books, of course.
A Veil of Spears opens with more of the 12 Kings of Sharakhai dead. The playing board is now covered with blood, if you will, and shifting allegiances are the order of the day. One King has gone rogue and begun co-opting desert tribes. Another aligns himself with the Queen of Qaimir against the blood mage Hamzakiir. Meanwhile, or nominal main protagonist Çeda forges more firmly her connections with the thirteenth tribe and the Moonless Host that fights against the Kings. The result is a series of events that culminate in a bloody, messy battle in which the fates of multiple Kings rest even as, back in Sharakhai, other Kings plot to take power for themselves.
In my previous review, I likened this series to Malazan or Game of Thrones in terms of its ever-growing cast and various points of view. This book only solidifies that comparison. It’s indeed becoming a tad difficult to follow, focus on, and remember the various characters and their motivations. That’s why I appreciate how Beaulieu ensures Çeda remains the spiritual centre of this series. Even as other characters appropriate more and more time on the page, Çeda’s journey as a character remains the most important. She connects us to all of the mythology, from the appearances of goddess Nalamae to the dark and twisted origins of the asirim. Her self-righteous and often headstrong nature puts her into conflict not just with enemies but also with allies, including her own grandfather and great-great-grandmother. I just love how incredibly flawed Çeda is, and how much she continues to mess things up and make things worse, while still being a morally upstanding and heroic persona.
To contrast this, Beaulieu almost gleefully plumbs depths of depravity in other characters. Ramahd, a one-time ally of Çeda, comes to mind. His sister-in-law and now queen, Meryam, seems to be in the midst of a Xanatos gambit that will drag her into darkness. Ramahd constantly questions her in the name of standing up for Qaimir, but he inevitably gives way to pressure from her in the name of loyalty and helps her with many a dirty deed done dirt cheap. The result is a character who is pitiable: in attempting to serve two masters (his queen and his country), Ramahd abandons all claim to moral backbone. I mean, we already saw this in the previous book when he sold out Çeda in a heartbeat to save his own life from a scary demon guy, but my interpretation of his character is solidified by the events in this book.
Part of me is very wary about how complex the mythology of this series is starting to become. It’s beautiful, in a way, how Beaulieu is connecting disparate elements and pulling things together into a tighter pattern. This does create a sense for the reader that everything is building, leading up towards a promised climax in a later book. However, as with my issue with characters, I think I’ve probably forgotten a lot about the mythos of this despite having just read 2 of the books nearly back to back! We are getting into “I need to keep the fandom wiki open” territory here. For some readers, of course, that might be a selling point!
A Veil of Spears cements my impression that this would be a wonderful fantasy series to adapt, though I shudder to think about the amount of T&A that HBO would shove into it. Rather than falling back on trite adjectives like cinematic, I’d prefer to praise the structure that Beaulieu gives to the plot. Each book advances the series in a clear and almost predictable way—after three books, Çeda has come such a long way from being the White Wolf dominating in the fighting pits. She has been a Blade Maiden and is now—in deed if not in name—a rebel against the Kings. Her growth and her character arc, along with the titanic shifts in the balance of power from novel to novel, make for compelling story fuel for a small screen adaptation.
See you soon with book 4!