Fun story: Kara requested the latest book in this series on NetGalley, mistakenly thinking it was book 3. Turns out it is book 6 she’s been approved to read, even though she has only read book 1. Oops. Fortunately, my awesome public library had books 2 through 5 available, and I was able to check them all out at once! So for the next month or so, I’m going to be binging this series in a way I seldom do, especially with doorstopper fantasy. It will be interesting to see how this influences my perception of Bradley P. Beaulieu’s epic series.
I really liked Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. It felt fresh and original. With book 2, Beaulieu tries to bottle that lightning a second time—and he succeeds. Picking up soon after the first book concludes, With Blood Upon the Sand follows Çeda’s ongoing quest to kill the Kings of Sharakhai, whom she currently serves as a Blade Maiden. There are other characters with their own allegiances and goals, from Ramahd and his sister-in-law to Çeda’s childhood friend Emre, who now runs with the rebellious Moonless Host. Meanwhile, the Kings themselves have plots within plots. Basically, Beaulieu’s promise is that from the moment you sit down with this book to when you turn the last page, nothing will be the same. In this respect, he delivers.
Once again, Çeda proves to be a great protagonist with her balance of talents and flaws. This book continues to share flashbacks to her childhood and her life with her mother. We learn more about how her past is intertwined with that of the Moonless Host and the Thirteenth Tribe, not to mention the goddess Nalamae. In the present, Çeda struggles to control herself now that her bond with the asirim is so strong; their collective anger and grief threatens to overpower her. She also has her own tempers and impatience to manage, and there plenty of examples in this story where those get the better of her to the detriment of her mission.
I really appreciate Beaulieu’s willingness to move the overall story along and not keep us waiting for payoffs. No spoilers, obviously, but if you were worried that by the end of this book Çeda would still be lurking within the ranks of the Blade Maidens, playing it safe while the Kings lord it over Sharakhai … well, don’t worry. Beaulieu doesn’t know the words “status quo.”
The structure and pacing of this book work well. Those payoffs come almost like clockwork, but there are also moments to breathe. With Blood Upon the Sand recognizes that fantasy novels can be overwhelming in how they conceptualize magic, religion, and entire worlds. I don’t quite feel like I’m in this world, but I come close—cinematic isn’t the right word, but maybe it’s closer to the feeling of a video game universe? In any event, Beaulieu helps us acclimate throughout the book to the revelations Çeda and other characters receive.
If I had one gripe about these books, it would just be the sheer amount of characters and names they demand my brain to remember. Actually, you know what this reminds me of? Those damn Malazan books. I never could get into that series, precisely because there were too many names. I couldn’t keep any of it straight. Beaulieu verges upon this sin in this series, yet there’s something—writing, plotting, characterization, I’m not sure what—that means he comes up short of triggering my wrath (no one wants that!).
Moreover, the complexity, of course, is what makes this very epic fantasy indeed. Like if HBO were in the mood, this would be great source material for a series that could rival Game of Thrones in its scope while also having the benefit of less misogyny and random character deaths. (Is it a coincidence that this series’ official name also contains “song” and that it is set among “sands” as opposed to “ice and fire”? I will let you be the judge!)
I would love to see a little less … I don’t know, queer-baiting? Not sure if that is the right term here. There’s another female character who makes a pass of sorts at Çeda, and it doesn’t go anywhere for reasons that make total sense for the plot—but it stood out a lot more in my mind because there aren’t really any other queer relationships in this book that I can recall. Just a lot of straight relationships (and straight-up messed up relationships, lol). I would love to see some more casually queer characters in this series, just hanging out and living their best desert lives.
Liked it, devoured it, will happily dive into book 3 soon with every expectation that it’s going to further raise the stakes and leaving me gasping.