12 Kings In Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu book review

Bradley Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings Of Sharakhai blends cultures to great effect


A land filled with brutal violence, twisted gods and vicious kings, Sharakhai is a place you’ll want to explore. Like the Asian/American history of Firefly, here is a culture of realistically blended elements, taken creatively to a believable place.

With no single direct influence, Twelve Kings In Sharakhai uses a sea of Middle Eastern cultures as inspiration, driven through a more traditional medieval fantasy plot of knights, kings, betrayal and honour.

Themes of indoctrination, oppression and normalisation of brutality run through Twelve Kings, while a very human story beats beneath all the fantasy violence and detailed mythology.

Twelve Kings does very little that is surprising or new with its plot, but it is an incredibly well-crafted traditional fantasy. It slows a little in the second act, but quickly regains composure. With characterisation it rises above the majority of its competitors, with a believable and diverse cast and none of the frustrating trappings of stereotyping.

The protagonist, pit-fighter Ceda, is driven but not cold, and strong but not shallow. And the initial few scenes of violence and sex, while very engaging, soon give way to a much richer plot. Beaulieu is excellent at keeping a tight rein on the moment-to-moment action and building up the tension and layers of mysteries.

This is thankfully not another novel that wants desperately to be Game Of Thrones, shoehorning in layers of subterfuge and bloodline melodrama. It does have elements of this, but it’s put together so artfully that the mortar of the world and its mythology almost goes unnoticed.

There are a couple of heavy-handed and not particularly artful elements, but these are very minor issues that absolutely shouldn’t dissuade you from picking up this excellent fantasy.