During the dark winter months, I’ve found myself drawn to desert-based fantasy or Sand and Sorcery as I like to call it… I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this epic series, would this one sustain the tension?
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it – will Çeda manage to keep their dark drives under control?
My advice before you plunge into this book is to first track down Twelve Kings. In common with most epic fantasy, there is a wide-ranging cast of characters and a handful of plotpoints spiralling away from Çeda’s main story arc that holds it altogether. So inevitably you’ll be slightly floundering at the start of this one as it hits the ground running – and the premise and world are of a quality that it would be real shame to miss out on the nuances and backstory.
I’m not the greatest fan of epic fantasy, as inevitably when trying to keep track of all those interconnecting plotlines and weaving the political machinations that abound in these books, the depth of characterisation tends to suffer. Not so with Çeda. Beaulieu manages to continue to make her motivations and unfolding backstory the nexus of this complicated, vividly drawn world – which is a major achievement and doubtless has garnered the clutch of positive reviews I have read by reviewers who I know like character-driven plots. And the fact that he has succeeded in keeping her so sharply defined within such a very broad canvas elevates this one. I don’t always like her, or what she gets up to, but I am mesmerised by her and her fractured, lonely childhood. And I’d love for her find a measure peace and happiness – though I don’t somehow see that happening…
As for the world – it is riveting. The gods in this environment are every bit as savagely unyielding as the arid landscape and have exacted a terrible price from the kings to keep them ruling over this city-state – Sharakhai. This book is peopled by vengeful ghosts, demons and monsters in human form intent on keeping hold of what they have at all costs… Meanwhile neighbouring kingdoms are circling, feeding support to the freedom fighters plotting to bring down the twelve kings. There is no second book slump here as the pace accelerates, rocketing forward to the climactic battle where everyone has something to lose – and gain. I’ll definitely be looking out for the next book in this excellent fantasy series and if you like your action dune-pocked and dripping with sweat, then this one is for you.
While I obtained the arc of Blood Upon the Sand from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.