Bradley Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was released last summer to much deserved acclaim (including my own). A Silk Road/Arabian desert/magic infused feast of fierce fighters and mysterious (-ly awesome) anything-but maidens, it built an absorbing world populated with characters I quickly grew to love, and whose next adventures I looked forward to following with nervous anticipation.
Of Sands and Malice Made is not the next chapter in the saga of pit fighter-turned-freedom fighter Çeda (that’s With Blood Upon the Sand, coming in 2017). But it is a chance to spend some more time with a younger Çeda, in the years before the beginning of Twelve Kings, plopped down into a different sort of adventure. In this prequel of sorts, Beaulieu delivers three short stories that together form a short novel, each section a linked episode in an ongoing battle with a Big Bad whose eye a 15-year-old Ceda has had the great misfortune to catch.
Rumayesh is an ehrekh, a”‘twisted yet powerful experiment” of a creature, constructed by an unpleasant god who released into the ancient world many demons with untold powers and few weaknesses. Rumayesh currently makes her living as a drug lord, the drug she’s pushing being dreams, or, more specifically, access to the dreams of others—the more interesting, the better (and pricier). She obsesses after one object of desire after another, binding them to her will and crushing their spirits until her wishes become theirs.
Çeda has the misfortune to be quite interesting indeed, and unfortunately for her, Rumayesh quite agrees. This turns into a case of seriously bad stalking—think “creepy guy who won’t take no for an answer,” but also “goddess who can destroy you with her pinky toe.” The fallout is not great for Çeda, who likes her free will just fine where it is, thank you, but it’s even worse for her friends and loved ones, who are slowly drawn into Rumayesh’s web of dark desire and powerful magic.
I enjoyed this book a great deal—even more, perhaps, than Twelve Kings. It’s tightly plotted, fast-paced without feeling rushed. It’s episodic, but with strong threads tying each episode into a larger whole. It’s revealing of character and consistent with what we’ve seen before, but just different enough to feel like the prequel that it is. Fifteen-year-old Çeda is more reckless, less sure-footed, and more mentor-dependent than we’ve seen her before. (She’s also as smart-mouthed and secretive as ever. Some things never change.) Her world is still imbued with most excellent magic, which grows more interesting with time as Beaulieu careful to keep it localized to very particular circumstances of time, place, and situation—it’s unknowable and elusive, maybe working now, but not tomorrow; maybe true here, but not there. Which, as far as magic is a metaphor for real life, makes total sense to me.
This is a most welcome chance to pause and take a breath in this world, enjoy its colors, and remember where the spell really comes from, before we launch into the next door-stopping volume of the trilogy. Like one of his admitted favorite authors (and mine), Guy Gavriel Kay, Beaulieu believes that, for those who will listen, storytellers hold the key to life’s great mysteries. As his own storyteller Ibrahim reminds us toward the end of this novella,
“There are stories and there are stories,Çeda. Some are meant to be shared far and wide. These are the stories that lift. That bind. Or cause fear where we should be afraid. Those sorts of stories keep us as one and remind us who we are. And then there are those that infect, that poison. Trust me to know the difference between the two.”
Read Of Sands and Malice Made to taste a little bit of both, and enjoy yourself rather a lot in the process.