Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.
I found it very hard to rate this book. For one, it takes around 200 pages for the main plot to really start. Everything prior to that is worldbuilding and backstory for the characters, which isn’t a bad thing, but even after the 200 page mark I was still confused about some of the social structures of the world and how they functioned. Beaulieu has so many different people and groups introduced and I get that Ceda understands the world she is in, but a few extra lines adding a bit more background for the reader would be helpful. For example, I still don’t understand the hierarchy related to the Kings and their children or the nobility classes. It’s not a large problem, but I feel like there are spaces in my understanding of the way the social structures work that are just blank. Don’t get me wrong, Beaulieu has built a fascinating world that I believe has so much more depth than what appears on the page, but more information would be helpfull.
Also, this book suffers from what so many books in epic fantasy do- it’s very formulaic. The plot is easy to predict if you are use to reading fantasy. I will not give it away here, but I am sure you can guess. What makes this book stand out are details of the world and the story I was immersed in this world and it felt real. I can vividly picture segments of Sharakhai where Ceda lives and spends most of her time, but the language used to create this imagery is very simple. There is no lyricism to the writing or playfulness. As one reads through the book the writing gets stronger as all the small details Beaulieu introduces begin to work together to create a more complicated story. The fighting sections of the books were the strongest writing example. The pacing is perfect and there is just enough detail to picture what is happening without it being overwhelming. I was told a lot of details in this book that I would have rather been shown (enter relevant example here, like some character detail that was told rather than demonstrated)..
One of the greatest aspects of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the protagonist, Ceda. She is smart, clever, and a badass. Although I didn’t always agree with Ceda’s actions or choices, they always fit within the aspects of her character. The relationship she has with her mother and the way Ceda relates to her are some of the strongest scenes in the book. I appreciated the complicated narrative created around, not just Ceda’s upbringing, but the way she related to it later in life versus at the time. Her fight scenes were clear and demonstrated the skills she had developed over a couple of years of hard work.
Overall, I think that this is a solid debut to what could become a wonderful epic fantasy series. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is ultimately a story about the power of stories and the ways that they change over time. It is steeped in a rich mythology, complex social structures and a diverse set of characters. I am eagerly anticipating the next book, With Blood Upon the Sand.