When Jackals Storm The Walls – Beaulieu Let The Dogs Out

48754174Well, here we are. My annual “scream at the sky about Song of Shattered Sands” event. Each year, like clockwork, Bradley P. Beaulieu puts out an enormous, detailed, and dense epic fantasy about an original Arabian-inspired world. And each year, like clockwork, I tell people to go read it – but only a select few follow my advice. I get it, a six-book epic fantasy (five of which are now out thanks to the release of When Jackals Storm the Walls) plus supplemental novellas is a large project to take on. But, honestly, there are few series out there that will give you as much bang for your buck as Song of Shattered Sands.

Reviews for Song of Shattered Sands novels:

  1. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai
  2. With Blood Upon the Sand
  3. A Veil of Spears
  4. Beneath the Twisted Trees
  5. When Jackals Storm The Walls (just kidding you are reading it right now)

Look, I don’t like reviewing sequels. I am here to help you understand whether a book is worth your time, and with sequels, you can often make that decision for yourself. As a review, You can’t really talk about a sequel’s plot, as you don’t want to spoil things for new readers to the series who stumbled onto this review (like the two people who edited this review for me). You are either selling something to someone who was already going to buy it, or going for the really hard sell and trying to get someone to commit to a huge number of books. Well, guess what reader, this is the latter, so strap in.

There are not many authors who seem to love writing their series as much as Bradley P. Beaulieu does. His passion for his books bleeds through every. Single. Page. I frankly don’t understand how he has the stamina to put out this many books so quickly. He has published one book per year(ish) and each one has absolutely no filler. These books have so much plot that Beaulieu had to write spinoff novellas just to fit all of the story in. Seriously, I am not kidding when I say these books are nothing but thousands of pages of plot and story. There is literally zero downtime. I don’t even know how he managed to track all of this when he was writing it. Thank Beaulieu for the book synopses he writes at the beginning of each book to help readers remember the 8000 things that happen in each book. The conflict has evolved into an entirely new story four times at this point.

With so much dense storytelling, the character growth has been enormous. My investment in each character is gigantic, and it makes following the meaty story all the more satisfying. Jackals, in particular, stands out because it finally fixed a minor problem that has been plaguing the story since book one. Twelve Kings (book one) begins as the story of Çeda, and while there are additional POVs, it’s very much her story. As the series expanded to have a much, much, larger scope, the burden on the larger cast became greater and greater. However, it always felt like the larger cast lacked agency when compared to Çeda, which watered down their segments. This issue has been improving since book three (A Veil of Spears), but Jackals is the first book to really feel like the entire cast all were as integral to the story as the original core protagonist.

If I had one criticism of Jackals, it would be that the extremely dense storytelling lacked a few major set pieces to break up the plot and stick in your memory. Most of the earlier books have key explosive moments that tug at the heartstrings and stick in the mind. Jackals is excellent all the way through, but it’s also a quieter and more uniform book without as much spectacle. Part of this has to do with the fact that we are in book five of six in a series that heavily leans into mystery. At this point, a lot of the reveals have already happened, and a good portion of the book is building up to the explosive finale that will undoubtedly be book six. Jackals is a great book, but it’s also a little meeker than its siblings. The book also felt a little light on major themes. Most of the ideas being bounced around are classic fantasy ideas with a new skin. While this is still enjoyable, it isn’t breaking new ground.

When Jackals Storm The Walls once again delivers a lovingly written epic story that never lets up and doesn’t let you down. With five out of six books sticking the landing so far, it is looking like a safe bet that this series will be one of the hidden gems of this era. I know I have leaned into the hyperbole and humor in my writing of this review, but I really do recommend you take the time and check out this series. It will not disappoint you.

Rating: When Jackals Storm The Walls – 8.5/10
-Andrew

The City of Brass – Guess Who’s Coming To Djinner

32718027We have been getting a lot of fantasy based on the desert and Arabian/Islamic lore recently and I dig it. I think djinn are pretty rad (they usually have fire for blood, which is awesome) and I will read every book that includes them I can get my hands on. The most recent entry into this genre is S. A. Chakraborty’s, The City of Brass. The lovely people of Harper Voyager sent me an early copy of what they promise is this year’s biggest debut in exchange for an honest review, so let’s see if the book holds up to their praises.

The City of Brass blurs the lines between high fantasy and urban fantasy, as our story starts in Cairo but rapidly moves to a complete fantasy land hidden in the deserts of the Middle East. Brass follows the story of two protagonists, Nahri and Ali. Nahri is a savvy thief on the streets of Cairo with the magical ability to sense illnesses and heal wounds. Shortly after the story begins she encounters some magical beings (an ifrit who is trying to murder her and a djinn she accidentally summons trying to keep her alive) and finds out that being able to magically heal wounds is slightly abnormal. Her djinn protector, Dara, tells her she might have djinn blood in her veins and that he should take her to their legendary capital of Daevabad to find out more about her past. The other protagonist, Ali, is the youngest son/prince of the king of Daevabad and is currently training to become captain of the guard when his brother eventually ascends to the throne. Daevabad is currently in a period of unrest as tensions between full blooded djinn and human/djinn hybrids, called shafit, fight over shafit rights. Ali is a shafit sympathizer and trying to support their push for a better life, but is actively working against the interest of his father to do so.

Both the leads are fun characters with relatable flaws to keep them grounded. Ali in particular has a stick up his ass the size of a tree, and watching him loosen up and learn to take life less seriously was something I really enjoyed. Nahri’s ignorance of Djinn culture and Ali’s training to become captain both allow Chakraborty to do a lot of seamless worldbuilding in a really natural way. On top of this, the world building is fascinating, rich, and deep. There are a variety of Djinn tribes, multiple magical races, and a handful of cities that Chakraborty brings to life creating a vibrant world hidden within our own. In addition, the plot of the book feels like a well written political thriller with a multitude of twists and reveals that keep the book constantly exciting.

One thing in particular that I really enjoyed about the book has to do with family. The family dynamic and interactions that Ali has with his family was one of the most refreshing and heartwarming things I have read in awhile. Ali, his siblings, and his parents all have very different ideologies and personalities, but Chakraborty manages to paint them as a group of people who deeply love one another despite their differences instead of Game of Throne-esque where they are just waiting for the best moment to betray each other. The book does a wonderful job of painting all issues and opinions in shades of grey that I love. Ali’s conversations with his older brother and father were some of my favorite parts of the book.

While there were many things I enjoyed about The City of Brass, no book is perfect. I mentioned that I loved Ali’s family, the exception to this is his sister. Ali’s sister is underdeveloped to the point where I cannot remember the name of her character. She seemed like she had some interesting things to contribute in the small time we had with her, but she simply does not get enough development or screen time. On the other side of things, Nahri was a great lead but her story sometimes felt like it would drag a little bit. In particular, the middle of the book felt slightly repetitive as Nahri was traveling over large expanses of desert.

Summing up my thoughts, I did really enjoy The City of Brass. I feel that this debut holds up to all the hype and will likely be one of the best books of the year. Brass has a lot of heart, a rare and valuable attribute in books, but might need a touch more polish. However, this is an incredible book for a debut and I cannot wait to see what Chakraborty has for me next.

Rating: The City of Brass – 8.5/10