A Veil of Spears

I'm sure you recall that I gave Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya glowing reviews, going as far as to claim that it was one of the most interesting fantasy series I had read in the last decade or so. Dark, ambitious, complex, and populated with a great cast of characters that leap off the pages, it was everything I wanted it to be. Sadly, it took everything I had just to go through Twelve Kings in Sharakhai because it featured nothing that made Beaulieu's first trilogy such a memorable work of fantasy.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was a major disappointment for me, no doubt about it. So much so that I thought The Song of the Shattered Sands just might not be for me. Took me two years to finally give the second installment a shot, but I was happy to discover that With Blood Upon the Sand was a much better read than its predecessor. Which is why I wasted no time reading A Veil of Spears and I'm glad to report that it's another good read.

Here's the blurb:

The third book in The Song of Shattered Sands series–an epic fantasy with a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action.

Since the Night of Endless Swords, a bloody battle the Kings of Sharakhai narrowly won, the kings have been hounding the rebels known as the Moonless Host. Many have been forced to flee the city, including Çeda, who discovers that the King of Sloth is raising his army to challenge the other kings’ rule.

When Çeda finds the remaining members of the Moonless Host, now known as the thirteenth tribe, she sees a tenuous existence. Çeda hatches a plan to return to Sharakhai and free the asirim, the kings’ powerful, immortal slaves. The kings, however, have sent their greatest tactician, the King of Swords, to bring Çeda to justice for her crimes.

But the once-unified front of the kings is crumbling. The surviving kings vie quietly against one another, maneuvering for control over Sharakhai. Çeda hopes to use that to her advantage, but whom to trust? Any of them might betray her.

As Çeda works to lift the shackles from the asirim and save the thirteenth tribe, the kings of Sharakhai, the scheming queen of Qaimir, the ruthless blood mage, Hamzakiir, and King of Swords all prepare for a grand clash that may decide the fate of all.

In my humble opinion, one of the shortcomings that sunk Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was that the author kept his cards way too close to his chest. Beaulieu plunged his readers into the heart of the tale without offering a whole lot in terms of explanation or information. There were hints of hidden depth throughout, mind you, but we were mostly left in the dark about most facets of the plot. Which, given that the ending offered very little in terms of payoff and resolution, was quite off-putting. Not so with With Blood Upon the Sand, however. Revelations were made and secrets were unveiled regarding the kings, the Moonless Host, the gods, the asirim, and much, much more. Beaulieu definitely elevated his game in the second volume and it made for a more satisfying read. With a lot of the groundwork already laid out, he continues to build on those storylines in A Veil of Spears and adds more layers to a plot that resounds with more and more depth with each new installment. Which bodes well for the future.

In terms of characterization, The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy was all shades of gray. As a matter of fact, it was adult fantasy the way it should be. Nothing clear-cut or juvenile about it, nothing so simple as good vs evil. The relationships between characters were complex and morally ambiguous, the way they normally are in real life. Which was true for the first trilogy, but not for Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. There was no depth to speak of when it came to the main protagonists. Everything was black and white through and through, with not a single shade of gray anywhere within the storylines. Çeda was too badass for her own good, and I found it impossible to care for or root for her. With Çeda being a hardcore girl trained to be a weapon, I was expecting Beaulieu to use our own preconceptions against us, the way he has often done in the past, and surprise and shock us when we least expected it. Alas, that was not to be. In previous works, the author's protagonists, though not flamboyant, were always solid, genuine, and three-dimensional men and women that remain true to themselves. Still, I found Çeda to be far more compelling and likeable in With Blood Upon the Sand and the same can be said about this third installment. Once again, the character development made a world of difference and made me care about her plight a lot more this time around. Emre, who gradually fell under the yoke of the Moonless Host, was another decidedly black and white character with no depth in the first volume. He was also further fleshed out in the last book, and even more so in A Veil of Spears. Once more, the same can be said of the Moonless Host and how it operates. Getting to know more about its past, its leaders and their ties to other characters and how they came to be was quite interesting. It was nice to discover that they're not just fundamentalist terrorist nutjobs. But with things moving forward, their plotline gets more and more interesting in this one. Ramahd and Meryam's storyline took off in fascinating fashion, opening up a slew of possibilities for things to come in the second installment, and just keep gaining momentum and importance in the greater scheme of things. The kings's POVs and Davud's perspective continue to add layers to the plot, with Bradley P. Beaulieu finding yet more ways to elevate his game in every aspect of his writing.

While no Bradley P. Beaulieu book has ever been called a fast-paced affairs, With Blood Upon the Sand was probably the author's most fluid work to date. I felt that there was a nice balance between the various perspectives and that the plot progressed at a good clip. The rhythm may not be as good in Beaulieu's newest, but it's never really an issue.

Beaulieu closed the show with style in With Blood Upon the Sand, setting the stage for bigger and better things to come in A Veil of Spears. And though the pace suffers here and there throughout the novel, this third installment's endgame and finale will have readers lining up for the next one, Beneath the Twisted Trees. There are three books left to be published to conclude The Song of the Shattered Sands and it will be interesting to discover what Beaulieu has in store for us.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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