Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is the final installement in The Lays of Anuskaya series. And since its predecessor, The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh, both ended up in my Top 10 books of the year in both 2011 and 2012, I was really looking forward to see how the author would cap it all off at the end.
Understandably, my expections were quite high. And after showing so much potential in the first two volumes and how ambitious The Lays of Anuskaya has been from the beginning, I was wondering if Beaulieu could close the show with style and aplomb. And for the most part, the author does! Though The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is far from perfect, it brings the series to a thoroughly satisfying end! Indeed, The Lays of Anuskaya is one of the most interesting fantasy series I've read in the last decade.
Here's the blurb:
Nearly two years after the harrowing events of The Straits of Galahesh, Atiana and Nikandr continue their long search for Nasim. The clues they find lead them to the desert wastes of the Gaji, where the fabled valley of Shadam Khoreh lies. But all is not well. War has moved from the islands to the mainland, and the Grand Duchy knows its time may be limited if Yrstanla rallies its forces. Worse, the wasting disease and the rifts grow ever wider, threatening places that once thought themselves safe. The Dukes believe that their only hope may be to treat with the Haelish warriors to the west of Yrstanla, but Nikandr knows that the key is to find Nasim and a lost artifact known as the Atalayina. Will Nikandr succeed and close the rifts once and for all? The answer lies deep within the Flames of Shadam Khoreh. From Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the critically acclaimed debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, comes the concluding volume in the Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.
Once again, I found the worldbuilding to be awesome. The Russian and/or Eastern European style and tone gives this series its distinctive vibe and flavor. In the second volume, Beaulieu elaborated on revelations regarding the Al-Aqim, the rifts, the peace-loving Aramahn, the violent sect of the Maharraht, the mysterious Matri, and the entire magic system. In this final installment, we learn more about the sundering and the Al-Aqim, the Motherland and the Haelish tribes to the West, the Kohori, and so much more. I loved how the author was able to shine some light on events from the first two installments and bring everything together for an exciting grand finale. This series truly resounds with depth.
I've always said that in terms of style, Bradley P. Beaulieu's was some sort of hybrid between Steven Erikson and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. But he also has a deft human touch that often reminded me of Robin Hobb. In addition, in The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, with its darker and brooding narrative, there was a definite Stephen R. Donaldson influence that made the Covenant books come to mind quite often. À la Erikson, Beaulieu seems to enjoy throwing his readers into the heart of the tale without offering much in the way of information. In the past, this often resulted in an occasional lack of clarity that left many readers wondering what the heck was going on. The good thing about this being the final volume in the trilogy is that we finally get all the answers we've been looking for.
As mentioned in my past reviews, in terms of characterization and magical system, Beaulieu's approach is very similar to that of L. E. Modesitt, jr. His cast of characters may not be the most flamboyant group of men and women. Still, they are solid, genuine, and three-dimensional protagonists that remain true to themselves. The same thing goes for the magic, which is consistent and must follow strict rules that make sense. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh features four disparate POV characters which allow us to witness what events are unfolding in various parts of the world until Beaulieu brings all the storylines together at the end. Those POV characters are Nikandr Khalakovo, Atiana Vostroma, Nasim, and Styophan Andrashayev, a soldier from the Grand Duchy sent West to set up an alliance with the Haelish tribes. I felt that there was a good balance between the different POVs. Personally, I did prefer Nasim and Atiana's points of view, for they were more mysterious and mystical than the others. And yet, Styophan's chapters bring a new dimension to the tale, one that I found quite refreshing.
In terms of rhythm, this third volume is extremely slow-moving. No one ever called The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh fast-paced affairs. However, they are indeed fast-paced compared to the snail's pace that characterize The Flames of Shadam Khoreh. It's never dull, mind you, and a lot must take place before the plotlines can be brought back together for the finale. But it does take a long time for the story to truly pick up, and I have a feeling that some readers will find that off-putting. In the first two volumes, one could see that the author was laying a lot of groundwork for what would follow, and the pace was rarely an issue, even if it wasn't as fluid as it could have been. Not so with this final installment, though. Having said that, everything does get moving in the last hundred pages or so, as Beaulieu ties up all the loose ends and brings all the plotlines together for the sort of great finale that no one ever saw coming!
All in all, The Lays of Anuskaya series is dark, ambitious, complex, and populated with a great cast of characters that leap off the pages. If you are looking for a quality read that's different from everything else on the market today, this series is definitely for you. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh will be released on June 5th and you can stay abreast of all the information regarding the novel here.