THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO
Bradley P. Beaulieu
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Bradley P. Beaulieu has created a complex, and original, world for his debut fantasy novel The Winds of Khalakovo. Very loosely based on Russian Romany, and Arabic cultures, Beaulieu's world is inhabited by all strata of society from the semi-outcast nomadic Aramahn to the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, of which Khalakovo is merely one of the duchies. Beaulieu's focus is on Prince Nikandr of Khalakovo, who is content to be married off for political expediency while trying to maintain his relationship to his Aramahn lover. However, Nikandr's world is not perfect, for his sister is dying from a wasting disease which Nikandr fears is epidemic, but even if just localized, he has a goal to discover a cure for his sister.
Nikandr is not allowed to be left on his own, however, between strange movements among the Aramahn and an attack on the magnificent flying boats of the Anuskaya, he finds himself in the middle of a Civil War and the quest for a boy who may hold the key to peace in the Duchy, the wasting disease, and his own life. The boy, however, is the target of a variety of factions, all of which are ruthless and place their own success above all else. At the same time, Beaulieu is capable of portraying his characters with depth of character and motive, allowing potential villains to become more complex, and more interesting, individuals while heroes are permitted to exhibit flaws.
Anuskaya is a strange world which draws from sources which are not as familiar to most fantasy readers as the folklore of Western Europe, and Beaulieu is content to take his time to introduce both his characters and their milieu. Although it is clear from the very beginning that Khalakovo is as alien as any planet created for a science fiction novel, the extent and specifics of Khalakovo's strangeness are unknowns. While the leisurely pace allows the reader to take their time getting familiar with the world, it doesn't provide the reader with as strong a hook as comes later in the novel once the setting is better established.It is clear that Beaulieu has spent a considerable amount of time building his world, but it is equally clear that Beaulieu is concerned about his prose. Rather than use sentences and vocabulary which simply tell the story, Beaulieu allows his language to help weave the setting as much as it describes it without getting in the way of his narrative. The use of language is as important to The Winds of Khalakovo as the characters, plot, or setting and offers as much depth as those more prosaic elements of fiction.
In addition to being a debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo is the first volume of the the Lays of Anuskaya, but it stands well on its own. Beaulieu has created a world of enough depth to easily carry his story and his characters forward into future novels. Prince Nikandr has managed to achieve a great deal in this first installment and it will be interesting to see where Beaulieu decides to have his character and his world go in his next novel.
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