Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Winds of Khalakovo - Bradley P. Beaulieu


About the book

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future. When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo.

500 pages (paperback)
Published on: March 8, 2011
Published by: Night Shade Books

This book was by the author.


The Winds of Khalakovo was a book that’s been on my radar for a while, if for no other reason than the title sounds cool; strange and unique. It’s very evocative, bringing to mind a windswept island full of cliffs and whistling wind. That image is incredibly fitting, because when I picture the world that Beaulieu creates, that’s exactly what I picture in my mind; a group of seven islands with high mountains, cliffs, complex culture and plenty of vodka.

Beaulieu made a smart move by patterning his world with many Eastern European influences. For readers like me, who are sick of the same old world with different characters, The Winds of Khalakovo will be a wonderful change of pace. Beaulieu steeped his world and character in these Russian-type influences, from the names to the vodka. For example, the protagonist’s name is Nikandr and he drinks plenty of vodka, as does pretty much everyone else. There are even some Russian words sprinkled throughout the work, like da and nyet.

The Russian words were an aspect of the book I was very divided on. On the one hand, it was nice having words I was vaguely familiar with sprinkled throughout the book. I could easily figure them out, and while they helped build up the cultural vibe Beaulieu was going for, I didn’t have to spend half the book figuring out what they meant, or constantly flip to the back to read definitions. On the other hand, these words made Beauliu’s world feel a bit used, for lack of a better word. With a world as unique and captivating as this one, the use of Russian words didn’t seem as creative as Beaulieu could have been. However, in the end, these are niggling concerns which may or may not actually matter to some readers.

There are also many similarities between The Winds of Khalakovo and historical elements. For example, the Dutchies have conquered the Archipelago and forced the nomadic Aharmahn under their rule and due to this the two classes of people are at odds with one another as the landed struggle to enforce their way of life upon the native inhabitants, who largely reject it. Most readers will find a similar event in history to compare this to, and because of that it lends the novel an aspect of familiarity it might have otherwise lacked, as well as easily allowing the reader to sympathize with certain parties.

Much of the important action sequences and plotlines have something to do with the airships, whether dealing with them or action happening upon them. The airships themselves are fascinating creations which really add an almost steampunkish vibe to the work as a whole. These ships are important for battles and trade. It doesn’t take many pages before the reader will encounter their first battle on an airship and here they might also see a flaw within the book itself.

The action sequences, while very well done, can be pretty hard to follow. The problem lies in the fact that much of the action is taking place on a ship above the ground, which takes away landmarks they could use to right themselves with what’s happening and where it’s going on. Due to some vague or confusing descriptions; it can be hard for the reader to tell who is doing what and where they are doing it. These concerns can really make a huge impact on the reader’s overall understanding of what happens. However, that being said, while these issues may seem like a big deal while reading about them, once you move on they don’t seem quite as important.

Beaulieu has written an incredibly complex novel filled with rich cultural detail and plenty of symbolism. In fact, many reviewers have compared The Winds of Khalakovo to Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels in world building, meaning that readers might often have to go back to catch details they might have previously missed. This complex world building is a huge undertaking on the part of the author and could possibly serve to delight readers. Regardless of how you crack this egg, having your debut book compared to Steven Erikson’s Malazan books is one hell of an accomplishment. For fans of complex worlds and books that set an impressive foundation for an incredibly promising epic fantasy series, you need look no further than The Winds of Khalakovo. Despite its flaws, it’s a book to pay attention to written by an author worth noting.

3.5/5 stars


3 comments:

  1. There are even some Russian words sprinkled throughout the work, like da and nyet.

    And I have seen some criticism from some quarters about that practice. Me, I like that sort of thing, but a stratum of fantasy readers seem to violently abhor it.

    I didn't have a problem with the airship battles, myself. Maybe I've read more Mil-SF than you, maybe. :)

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    1. You probably do read more military SF than me. I had a hard time figuring out what exactly was going on. I also understand about 0% of all ship lingo, which doesn't help.

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  2. Great review, it matches many of my thoughts about the book.

    I've got The Winds of Khalakovo waiting in my review queue and should get around to a review of it before the month is out. Like you, I thought the action sequences were pretty tough to follow. The Russian-style setting was kinda unique, but not all that different from what we see all the time in standard fantasy.

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