Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in the Song of the Shattered Sands series by Bradley P. Beaulieu.
Çeda lives with her best friend Emre in the slums of great Sharakhai, the Amber Jewel of the Desert, a hub of commerce and ruled by twelve immortal Kings. She loves Sharakhai and its people, but she had no love for the Kings and their harsh ways. She’s lost much by their hands, and every night of the Beht Zha’ir, when no one ventures outside and the chosen ones wait and pray to be taken by the deadly asirim, their hands are stained with more blood of Sharakhani. But the Kings are well protected by their Silver Spears and the elite warrior Maidens, and any hope to overthrow them is futile. After Çeda goes out on the night of Beht Zha’ir, she experiences something that sets her on a path of discovery, and revenge. Sharakhai holds many secrets, and Çeda means to learns them all and use them to her advantage, for there is much afoot in the city.
Beaulieu is amazing at making you feel the city of Sharakhai. I could feel the heat, the press of bodies at the market, I could hear the gutter wrens running around laughing and picking pockets, the roar of the crowd in the fighting pits and I could see the horror of the asirim and the actions of the Moonless Host. The setting is absolutely riveting.
All characters felt like real people, with their own motivations, talents and flaws. Çeda is my kind of girl: headstrong, a woman of action, knowledgeable about her part of the city, curious, and driven. Sure, she’s driven to avenge the loss she suffered when she was little, but she has a plan, and sticks to it. She still has much to learn, of course, and she makes many mistakes. But she learns from them, and that’s what I like about her. She overreaches sometimes, and can be overconfident on occasion, but she’s still, what, nineteen? It’s understandable, even though it can be frustrating.
Her friendship with Emre was believable, and I’d like to know more about Emre, and his motivations. I don’t necessarily buy what he told Macide, leader of the Moonless Host, to join them, but he is siding with them while he knows Çeda doesn’t approve of their crude and often bloody methods. Why would he want to belong to them, is what I’m wondering.
Ramahd’s story of loss is a harrowing one, and sketches an even more terrible image of the Moonless Host. He’s on his own path of revenge, and I see his path colliding with Çeda’s many times in the future. I must admit I like him, and am severely creeped out by his sister-in-law Meryam, but I’m excited to see what happens next with them.
The only thing that frustrated me while reading this book was that no one seems to clearly communicate! Everyone’s keeping secrets from everyone, and then they feel bad for not telling the other. I believe Ramahd and Çeda have been the clearest towards each other about their goals. I hope people actually start talking to each other more, and work together.