‘Twelve Kings’ by Bradley Beaulieu
The twelve kings of Shakarai tried to bury their secrets in the sands. But no matter how deeply they are buried, secrets want to be found.
An assassin discovered the first of them, and was murdered by the kings, who hoped their secrets died with her.
But secrets find a way. The assassin had a daughter. And now she will uncover the truth.
I picked this up a little tentatively, attracted more by the cover than the blurb. ‘Twelve Kings’ is the first book in a new, Middle Eastern-infused fantasy series called Song of the Shattered Sands. I was put in mind of ‘Throne of Glass’ etc. by Sarah J Maas (the covers do look much alike), and so expected something for that readership but with a more Game of Thrones-ish edge. We are promised blood, in any case: the blood of Sharakhai’s god-Kings, whom Çeda has sworn to destroy.
Çeda’s world is fascinating, and strikingly described. It has strong veins of violence and horror – from the Kings themselves and their merciless Blade Maidens, to the rebelling desert tribes, to the asirim, ghoulish creatures that claim a tithe in human flesh. There is a rich in-world history, too, which I always appreciate (though it was often revealed in big expository chunks).
Unfortunately, Çeda herself remains a cipher. The reader is told again and again her goal: to avenge her mother by killing the Kings. But Çeda’s actions seemed so very FUNCTIONAL to me, and her progress very slow. I found myself questioning her decisions, and her commitment. Even her unfolding backstory didn’t win my sympathy (seriously, everyone in this book has a tragic backstory). I just didn’t connect with her.
I will not deny, however, that there are some great action sequences. An early assassination attempt on one of the Kings (NOT by Çeda, it must be noted) had me on the edge of my seat. The narrative picks up the pace in its final third, and revelations of discord between the Kings intrigued me. Although, should it be a problem that the most interesting characters here are the villains?
I am in two minds about this book. Twelve Kings features a rich and unfamiliar world that I am keen to explore – but a laboured plot and my inability to invest in its protagonist means that I’m unlikely to pursue the series. FYI, this is definitely more Game of Thrones than Throne of Glass (or it’s trying to be). While it’s not for me, it could still be for you.
Has anyone else read this? What did you think?