Bradley Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings immediately immerses you in a rich and vibrant world. The noisy spice markets, the urchin thieves, the shifting sands and the fighting pits are all as vividly imagined as the strangely garbed peoples that occupy them. However, at no point does the strangeness of the city of Sharakhai and its surrounding desert landscape ever overwhelm the reader. Each facet is well thought out and routed in a consistency which gives the culture and landscape a deep sense of realism. More than this, the environment is tied in a profound way with the characters who inhabit it. Right from the start you get a full picture of the world in which Çeda has grown to become the famous White Wolf of Sharakhai – a gladiator heroine.
In his storytelling, too, Beaulieu has created something altogether vivid and perfectly natural. Though Çeda is undoubtedly the protagonist and more than this, on a quest for vengeance that is undeniably righteous in her eyes, this story is far from one-sided. Full of the slow reveal of secrets and with all truths rewritten by the victorious Kings, it is impossible to know whose actions are truly justified. At times, Çeda herself can come across as reckless, emotional and willfully vengeful despite her lack of context for the deeds of those who have set her on this path. At others, the purportedly immortal Kings who she has sworn to bring down can seem just like any men who have had to make hard choices to protect their people.
More than this, the narrative hints of a larger scale to the deeds of the opposing forces within the city of Sharakhai. The gods themselves seem to be caught up in this dance of vengeance. For, despite the veneer of civilisation in the once tribal city, it is not just young Çeda who is on a personal quest to avenge someone dear to her. Interwoven with her path are the tales of many others, all of whom have lost someone in a brutal manner and all of whom cannot rest until they have personally put blades to those responsible.
Though Twelve Kings ends its narrative at a suitable point to stop and draw breath, I’m eager to read the next installment and disappointed that I will have to wait another year to do so.