If you read my review of Beaulieu’s first novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, you know it was one of my favorites last year. Now the second volume in the series has hit shelves. Beaulieu was kind enough to send me a review copy of The Straits of Galahesh. I had wanted to have the book finished and this review posted about the time the books hit the shelves, which was a week ago. Unfortunately life has been happening at my house, and I’m a bit behind on several commitments.
However, you can still snag a copy. And you should. What follows are several reasons why, along with some spoilers for The Winds of Khalakovo. If you haven’t read it, skip the next few paragraphs.
Before I give those reasons, though, let me set the stage. Five years have passed since the end of the previous novel. Nasim is now a young man, seeking to understand his past and stop the Al-Aqim from ushering in the end of the world. Khalakovo is still occupied by Vostromo. Nikandr is traveling the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, trying to stop the spread of the Rift. And Ataina, now a powerful Matra, has offered herself as a wife to one of the high ranking noblemen in the Empire of Yrstanla.
Yes, she still loves Nikandr, and he, her. This is a political marriage. Not that this sits well with Nikandr. Remember the things I said in the review of Winds about the course of true love not running smooth. Well this is a longer book, and straits often contain rapids. I’m just saying.
The wedding is going to take place on the island of Galahesh, a quasi-independent state, which is cut in half by deep straits. The ley lines through the aether twist along the straights to such an extent that the airships can’t cross the straits. All personnel and material have to be lowered in elevators, transported across the straits by ferry, and raised by elevators. The straits act as an effective barrier between the Empire and the Grand Duchy. This becomes a major point in the plot, in part because the Matra can’t cross the straits either when they take the dark.
Nikandr still has his bond with Nasim. Nasim can no longer sense the spirit world. Soroush (at the beginning of the novel) is still being held by the Maharat. Atiana is one of the more powerful Matra. Nikandr’s father is now one of the Grand Duke’s most trusted advisers in spite Vostromo’s occupation of Khalakovo. And Grigory still needs to be taken out and hanged.
None of them will be the same after the events of this book. Provided they survive.
End of spoilers for Winds.
Sometimes a first novel hits the shelves that is above average, promising great things to come in future works, only to have the second novel disappoint. This can be because the author only had one good book in him/her, because there was more time to polish the first novel than the second due to publication schedules, or any number of other reasons.
That is not the case here. Straits is a more mature work than Winds. There is a great deal of action, and all of the action scenes are quite well done, but it seems to me the focus here is more on character. Don’t get me wrong; there was strong character development in Winds.
It’s just that Beaulieu has taken his character development to a new level. And not just with the three viewpoint characters: Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim. The supporting cast of siblings, servants, soldiers, and others come alive as individuals. I found this to be particularly true of Soroush, the terrorist leader who was one of the central villains in the first book. Here he grows into one of the more heroic figures. In short Beaulieu has created a cast of characters who live, breath, and about whom the reader cares. He populates the book with them.
Then he kills them.
Not all of them, of course. A number survive. But no one’s survival is guaranteed. At no time does Beaulieu kill off a character gratuitously. Each death is logical and comes naturally from the events in the story. None of these characters die for cheap emotional manipulation. And once it sinks in that any one of these people may not make it to the last page, it heightens the suspense.
And there’s plenty of suspense. The book is structured so that each viewpoint character gets two or three chapters before another character gets their turn on stage. Each of these sections ends in such a way that you want to keep reading. The term “page-turner” is sometimes used derisively by the literati for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. It would seem to me that a writer who can make the reader want to keep turning the pages because he/she is engrossed in the story is a success, regardless of sales numbers.
This is not a predicatble novel. Several times the story went in a direction I wasn’t expecting. Not everything is as it seems. Straits is a dark novel, however. At times, very dark. There are scenes of human sacrifice, including children. If you like your fantasy full of rainbow colored unicorns, you might have problems with parts of this one.
There is not as much emphasis on politics as there was in Winds, although based on how this one ends, I suspect that won’t be the case with the third book. The story, although at a natural break, is far from over.
If you read The Winds of Khalakovo, then you will want to read The Straits of Galahesh. If you haven’t, then buy and read them both. This one is full of excitement, suspense, and betrayal. Lots of betrayal, some intentional, some not. I’ve read a great deal of fantasy in the last year, and almost all of it was good to great. The Straits of Galahesh was one of the best.