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The Straits of Galahesh: Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya [Paperback]

Bradley P. Beaulieu
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April 3 2012 The Lays of Anuskaya (Book 2)
West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire.

Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past — and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr’s lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy. But when the Al-Aqim, long thought lost to the past, return to the islands and threaten to bring about indaraqiram — a change that means certain destruction for both the Landed and the Landless — bitter enemies must become allies and stand against their horrific plans.

From Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo, comes Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya, The Straits of Galahesh.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to pay attention to! April 21 2012
By RjLeduc
Format:Paperback
I liked Winds of Khalakovo (book one of this series), but it had its blemishes. I was very pleased that Beaulieu learned from them, and that the Straits of Galahesh shows his growth as an author. I could find only a minor quibble to complain about with book two.

I really liked the Straits of Galahesh (I bought additional copies to give to friends). I think it is one of the most enjoyable epic fantasy I have read in a while, and that is saying something.

The book has wonderfully developed characters that I became invested in. It has an interesting and detailed world full of interesting lands, people, and a well developed magic system. I found the dialogue to be very well written.

And did I mention there is a LOT of action in the book? Once things get going, Beaulieu really keeps you on the edge of your seat with political intrigue, danger, and a lot of battles and encounters. It kept me up late reading even though I needed to get up the next morning.

He also really keeps you guessing. I was constantly surprised by the twists and turns, and there were a lot of times I never saw things coming. How many times have you read an epic fantasy lately and have been able to say that? This alone really makes this book worth reading.

Another thing this book gets right is giving us sufficient information about the politics and the people involved so you understand who they are, and their motivation. And the motivations are grey, not black and white. You get to see the various points of view and how the different sides believe they are in the right. A think the behaviour of some of the characters may surprise you.

One thing I really like about this book is the freshness and originality.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended! Aug. 18 2012
By Patrick St-Denis TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This novel is the sequel to what I considered to be the 2011 speculative fiction debut of the year, The Winds of Khalakovo.Bradley P. Beaulieu made quite an impression on me with his first book, and thus I had rather high expectations for The Straits of Galahesh.

After showing so much potential, I wanted to know if the author could bring this series to another level with the second volume. Well, this sequel delivers on all fronts and is even better than its predecessor! Indeed, Beaulieu managed to iron out most of the kinks that were the shortcomings of The Winds of Khalakovo. In the end, The Straits of Galahesh is an even more ambitious project, one that makes for a wonderful reading experience!

Here's the blurb:

West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire.

Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past - and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr's lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shaping up to be a fine fantasy trilogy April 9 2012
By Stefan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
My path to Bradley Beaulieu's writings was probably different from most people's: I discovered him only recently through Strata, the excellent science fiction novella he co-wrote and self-published with Stephen Gaskell. I enjoyed Strata so much that I immediately went back to check out his ambitious full length debut The Winds of Khalakovo. Now, about a year later, Night Shade Books delivers the second novel in the Lays of Anuskaya series: The Straits of Galahesh.

Short version: if you enjoyed The Winds of Khalakovo, I'm relatively sure you'll like The Straits of Galahesh even more. The new novel brings to the table the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor, but all in all it's a more polished work that promises great things for Bradley Beaulieu's future.

The titles of both novels -- not to mention the entire series -- prominently feature place names, so it's probably not surprising that the setting is a big part of what makes these books special. This is the story of a brand new and utterly fascinating fantasy universe: the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, a realm comprised of a number of island groups that are linked together by flying windships, which sail the magical aether using a combination of sails and magic. The "Landed" rulers of Anuskaya have a distinctly Russian flavor, from the names of places and characters to their food, drink, clothing and so on. A second ethnic group, the (mostly) peaceful Aramahn, appears to be more of a parallel to Arabic or Persian people of our world. The Landed Anuskayans rely heavily on Aramahn magic to power their windships, which results in an uneasy coexistence because the Anuskayan islands were originally part of the Aramahn homeland.

In The Straits of Galahesh, a large part of the action shifts to a third area, the Empire of Yrstanla and specifically the island of Galahesh, which feel distinctly Turkish or Ottoman. The parallels to our world are clear, but I'm not sure if these novels are meant to reflect a specific era in the same way that e.g. Guy Gavriel Kay's novels are often clear fantasy retellings of real historical periods.

In either case, the geographical and historical angles are only part of the puzzle. Bradley Beaulieu literally adds another dimension to the story with the spirit realm Adhiya, which is the home of "hezhan" or spirits that come in several varieties: vanahezhan are earth spirits, suurahezhan are fire spirits, and so on. Certain Aramahn can bond with these, allowing them to perform magic in the material world of Erahm. A second form of magic is controlled by the Matri or Anuskayan matriarchs, who submerge themselves in freezing underground "drowning basins" to touch the magical aether, allowing them to control animals and communicate telepathically. The contrast between the exhilaration of flying on a magic-controlled windship and the claustrophobic terror of being drowned in ice cold water is hard to miss and only heightens the impression that the Matri's type of magic is one of the most uncomfortable ones ever seen in fantasy.

As the novels progress, it gradually becomes more and more clear that the political machinations of Anuskaya are only one aspect of a larger tale that started centuries ago and involves the very nature of the two realms and of reality itself. The Lays of Anuskaya shines most brightly when it interweaves these two elements -- politics and, for want of a better word, magic -- into one larger tale. It's probably incorrect to say that one of these aspects is more important than the other, which is a testament to Bradley Beaulieu's skill as a storyteller even so early in his career.

The Winds of KhalakovoYes, but what about the characters, you ask? I haven't focused on them much in this review to avoid spoilers, as The Straits of Galahesh is the sequel to a novel that didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have. Suffice it to say that each of the books has a small ensemble cast of three main characters. The point of view changes every few chapters to approach the story from different perspectives, including a young noble from the house of Khalakovo, the princess he is supposed to marry, and several Aramahn. If ever the saying "all is fair in love and war" could apply to a fantasy series, it would be this one, because politics and emotion intertwine in these people's lives right from the start and in various and often surprising ways.

In that sense, these novels reminded me at times of Robin Hobb's Seven Duchies/Rain Wilds series. Both series start out by focusing on people who live on the intersection of the public and the personal, then gradually zoom out to show that even the larger perspective of the world's current power struggles is only one piece of a puzzle that started long before any of the main characters were born. Personal relationships, political struggles, and age-old magics that affect the very nature of the world all play important roles in shaping these novels.

The ambition is definitely there. The scope is impressive. The creativity of the world-building is wonderful and, to my mind, the best part of these novels. Still, there are definitely also a few weaknesses. Depending on your personal taste, these books may be a challenging read.

Even though the setting of these novels is one of their strengths, the way it's introduced to the reader is occasionally frustrating. The characters' names fall into three linguistic groups: Russian, Arabic/Persian, and Turkish. Even though there are just a few key players in each group, there's also a cast of side-characters, and because of the similarity of their names it can at times be hard to keep track of who's who. Likewise, the novel is full of new vocabulary that's mostly just used without explanation, creating a learning curve for the reader. This is one of those novels where you occasionally just have to keep reading even if you're confused about a certain term or don't fully understand the finer points of the setting, trusting that it'll eventually become clear. (In that sense, it's a shame that only the second novel in the series has a glossary and a section explaining the magic system and windships. This would have been very helpful in the first novel too.)

Another concern is pacing and structure. The novels switch perspective every few chapters, which results in a few annoying cliffhangers. More importantly, Bradley Beaulieu covers a huge amount of plot in each novel, and the narrative tension is often maintained at a high pitch. Especially the second half of The Winds of Khalakovo is so full of spectacular battles and hair-raising escapes that it becomes exhausting towards the end. By contrast, the early parts of The Straits of Galahesh sometimes feel as if the novel is wandering rather than going somewhere, with several scenes that maybe could have been trimmed down. (To be fair, it also contains a handful of scenes that are simply brilliant.) Because the three main characters are in different locations for most of the novel, it occasionally feels like three separate stories that were chopped up and combined into a novel, rather than one cohesive story. Fortunately Beaulieu pulls the threads together at the end, delivering a climactic and powerful finale.

If you're the kind of reader who enjoys Steven Erikson's approach of throwing readers into a setting without too much guidance and letting the story do the job of explaining the details as it progresses, you should have a great time getting to know this fantasy universe. While that happens, you'll be treated to healthy doses of feudal and international politics, strong characters, unique magic, romance, spectacular battles on land and in the air, and a story that continues to broaden in scope. The Lays of Anuskaya is shaping up to be a fine fantasy trilogy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great middle volume of a trilogy July 19 2013
By Sneaky Burrito - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I enjoyed The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu, so when I saw that the sequel (The Straits of Galahesh) was out, I bought it right away. Quick reminder for anyone who hasn't read Winds: the Aramahn are people with the power to commune with spirits (hezhan) and can use this ability to fly airships; the Landed are the race of people who rule but who do not have this same power.

Overall, I was happy with Straits. Though it's a long book, it was a quick read. There are some books I've read lately that have sat on my table for days before I got around to finishing them but this book wasn't one of those. I did have to refer to the glossary from time to time to remind myself of some of the specialized vocabulary (e.g. types of hezhan), but that was easy to do. I'm actually quite grateful for the glossary because there are a lot of new terms in this novel, and it's been a while since I read Winds.

I'll admit to not remembering EVERY character (it's been a while since I read Winds), but I remembered the main characters and could figure out most of the rest from context. I was impressed with the female characters last time, especially as these books were written by a man. I still liked Atiana (the main female viewpoint character, a Landed woman) quite a bit, but there weren't as many strong female characters in this book as in the previous volume. Atiana's sister Ishkyna gets more time on the page in Straits, but we're never really inside her head. Other female characters also have only supporting roles.

One of the chief villains is female (Sariya) and I go back and forth between two different opinions of her. On the one hand, she's a classic manipulator who associates herself with a powerful man and steers him towards helping her achieve her own ends; we've seen villains like this in other books. On the other hand, she is not all-powerful and her motives are not always clear. So we don't know whether or not Atiana should trust her. I like that Sariya has weaknesses, and I guess she couldn't have manipulated Hakan (ruler of Yrstanla, a neighboring land) if she'd been a man. At least, not in the same way.

There are really three viewpoint characters in this book: Atiana, Nasim, and Nikandr. So some of the lesser female presence comes from Rehada (an Aramahn woman featured in the previous volume) being replaced by Nasim as a viewpoint character.

As for the multiple viewpoints, I thought this was pretty well-balanced. Usually there are about two chapters dedicated to any one character before a switch; there are something like 80 chapters in all. A lot happened to each of the three main characters during the same periods of time, and Beaulieu does a good job of allocating pages to each storyline. Also, the storylines intersect and events affecting one character also affect the others. A lot of chapters end with cliffhangers, but I actually think this is a good thing. You know the characters are in peril and you want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

I haven't said much about the male characters. Nikandr is still sympathetic, though he's a little bit of a do-gooder here - making peace with former enemies and trying to heal children afflicted with a wasting disease. Agreeing to command ships to protect the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya (the country ruled by the Landed, and modeled on czarist Russia) even though his family is not in favor. Etc. But, he's not always successful in his healing attempts. He gets short with Atiana when he finds out she's planning to marry someone else (for political reasons), then regrets it. Sometimes he gets knocked out in fights. So he's not perfect. And that's a good thing. I'm a little tired of reading about heroes who win every fight and always know exactly the right thing to do.

Nasim is also fairly sympathetic. He recruits Sukharam and Rabiah, two other children, to aid him in his quest to stop Muqallad (a villain not already mentioned) and Sariya, although then he's hesitant to use them. I guess I can see why he needs his companions; he can't touch the hezhan himself anymore, but can through others, and both of his companions are able in that regard. In a way, this serves to differentiate Nasim from Khamal, his past incarnation. Khamal regularly used children, even turning them into ahkoz (facially disfigured children who are bonded with fire spirits), killing them if need be. Nasim is reluctant to do such things, so even though he *is* Khamal, he's also not Khamal. Being young, and having spent most of his life between the corporeal world and that of the hezhan, he is also inexperienced, and he makes some mistakes, so he's also not perfect.

Beaulieu has killed off major characters before, though I have a feeling Nikandr and Atiana will stick around until the end of the series. Still, because they had flaws and weren't omnipotent, I wasn't always sure how they were going to get out of sticky situations.

I've spent a long while talking about characters. What else? I believe this book is meant to be the middle volume of a trilogy, but I don't think it suffers from the usual "middle volume syndrome." While some big problems have not been solved by the end of the book, others are. So stuff still happens, and it's important to the flow of the series. There's enough content that it couldn't really be folded into other volumes. (That's not to say that the book stands on its own, you definitely need to read The Winds of Khalakovo first!)

I really didn't find all that many grammar or editing problems. Part of that may have been getting caught up in the story. But in a book of this size, if I can only find about three specific instances that inspired me to nitpick, well, that's an accomplishment on the part of Beaulieu and his editor that's deserving of mention.

I haven't said much about magic or plot. Magic is basically the same as in the last volume, with the Aramahn being able to call on the hezhan, and the Landed (some women, at least) being able to take the dark, which allows them to see events occurring far away and communicate with others who are distant (usually by possessing rooks). I've seen magic that's physically draining in other books, but not a lot that's been physically uncomfortable. There are other risks to taking the dark, as well, including losing oneself in the aether, never to return to one's body. At any rate, it's not simple; there are real costs to magic and it's not always an easy way out.

Also interesting with respect to magic is that previously, taking the dark had primarily been for the Landed, whereas now Ushai, an Aramahn, can do it, and communing with the hezhan had been for the Aramahn, but now Nikandr gains the ability to do that. We don't see the consequences of that in this volume, but I'm sure that we'll hear about it in the next one.

The plot was pretty complex, with a lot of switching allegiances. I could follow most of these; every once in awhile a character would do something I didn't really understand, but it was usually made clear after a couple of chapters. I was surprised several times, but that's a good thing. I hate it when I can predict the ending of a book well in advance, and I definitely couldn't here.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend The Straits of Galahesh, but start with The Winds of Khalakovo first, if you haven't read that one already.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended! Aug. 18 2012
By Patrick St-Denis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This novel is the sequel to what I considered to be the 2011 speculative fiction debut of the year, The Winds of Khalakovo.Bradley P. Beaulieu made quite an impression on me with his first book, and thus I had rather high expectations for The Straits of Galahesh.

After showing so much potential, I wanted to know if the author could bring this series to another level with the second volume. Well, this sequel delivers on all fronts and is even better than its predecessor! Indeed, Beaulieu managed to iron out most of the kinks that were the shortcomings of The Winds of Khalakovo. In the end, The Straits of Galahesh is an even more ambitious project, one that makes for a wonderful reading experience!

Here's the blurb:

West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire.

Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past - and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr's lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy. But when the Al-Aqim, long thought lost to the past, return to the islands and threaten to bring about indaraqiram - a change that means certain destruction for both the Landed and the Landless - bitter enemies must become allies and stand against their horrific plans.

From Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Winds of Khalakovo, comes Book Two of The Lays of Anuskaya, The Straits of Galahesh.

The worldbuilding is terrific. Once more, very Russian and/or Eastern European in style and tone, Beaulieu prefers to go for something different than the clichéd European medieval environment that gives this book its distinctive vibe and flavor. The author elaborates a lot more than he did in his debut, and what was just a hint of hidden depth in The Winds of Khalakovo is finally revealed in full. I liked how we learned more about the Motherland and the threats it's facing, but also the way it's tied to the islands of the Grand Duchy. Moreover, the revelations regarding the Al-Aqim, the rifts, the peace-loving Aramahn, the violent sect of the Maharraht, the mysterious Matri, and the entire magic system were fascinating.

People have asked me what authors Bradley P. Beaulieu reminded me of, and it's a hard question to answer. But in many ways, he appears to be a mix of Steven Erikson and L. E. Modesitt, jr. That's a weird hybrid, I know. But it's the only thing I could come up with. À la Erikson, Beaulieu likes to throw his readers into the heart of the tale without offering much in the way of information. In the first volume, this often resulted in an occasional lack of clarity that left readers wondering what the heck was taking place. Drawing on the material from The Winds of Khalakovo, Beaulieu does it less often in this sequel. But as is the case with Steven Erikson, sometimes you just need to buckle up and be taken along for the ride, hoping that an explanation will be provided down the line.

In terms of characterization and magic system, his approach is very similar to that of L. E. Modesitt, jr. Beaulieu's cast of characters may not be the most flamboyant bunch of people. And yet, for the most part they are solid, genuine, and three-dimensional men and women that remain true to themselves. The same thing goes for the magic, which is consistent and must follow strict rules that make sense. So far, there hasn't been any Deus ex machina moments where magic is concerned. Again, I feel that too little is known about everything that has to do with magic in The Lays of Anuskaya. But instead of finding this off-putting, my curiosity is such that I'm just dying to learn more and see what will occur next.

As was the case with its predecessor, the layered characterization in The Straits of Galahesh was my favorite facet of this novel. The five-year gap between both installments allowed Beaulieu to showcase just how brilliant his character development can be. Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim are the viewpoint protagonists in this second volume. The structure of the novel is such that each viewpoint always gets two or three chapters at a time, which creates a neat balance between them. Add to that a supporting cast of genuine and interesting men and women, and once again you have a work that really captures your imagination. Special kudos to Beaulieu for letting readers learn more about Soroush and realize that there is much more to him than just being a fundamentalist terrorist leader. All in all, the characterization is top notch.

In addition, I'm not sure Bradley P. Beaulieu sat down and had a beer with George R. R. Martin at a convention in between books, but it looks as though he became fond of creating living and breathing protagonists that readers care about, only to kill them off when you least expect it. Indeed, The Straits of Galahesh features a body count that both GRRM and Joe Abercrombie would approve of. At one point I was left wondering who the hell would be left to make it to the third volume!

In terms of rhythm, there were a few rough spots here and there, the same as in The Winds of Khalakovo. You can see that the author is laying a lot of groundwork for what will follow, but the pace is rarely an issue. In any case, Beaulieu's eye for details and his evocative narrative creates an imagery that never failed to amaze me. There are surprises and shocking moments aplenty throughout the book, making this one extremely unpredictable novel to read.

Dark, ambitious, complex, populated with a great cast of characters that leap off the pages, The Straits of Galahesh is just what the doctor ordered if you are looking for a quality read that's different from everything else on the market today. The Winds of Khalakovo turned out to be one of the very best SFF works of 2011. Somehow, Bradley P. Beaulieu has raised the bar even higher for this sequel, making The Straits of Galahesh a "must read" speculative fiction title for 2012.

Two thumbs way, way up! Do yourself a favor and give Beaulieu's series a shot. You'll thank me. . .

Highly recommended.

Check out Pat's Fantasy Hotlist!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to pay attention to! April 21 2012
By RjLeduc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I liked Winds of Khalakovo (book one of this series), but it had its blemishes. I was very pleased that Beaulieu learned from them, and that the Straits of Galahesh shows his growth as an author. I could find only a minor quibble to complain about with book two.

I really liked the Straits of Galahesh (I bought additional copies to give to friends). I think it is one of the most enjoyable epic fantasy I have read in a while, and that is saying something.

The book has wonderfully developed characters that I became invested in. It has an interesting and detailed world full of interesting lands, people, and a well developed magic system. I found the dialogue to be very well written.

And did I mention there is a LOT of action in the book? Once things get going, Beaulieu really keeps you on the edge of your seat with political intrigue, danger, and a lot of battles and encounters. It kept me up late reading even though I needed to get up the next morning.

He also really keeps you guessing. I was constantly surprised by the twists and turns, and there were a lot of times I never saw things coming. How many times have you read an epic fantasy lately and have been able to say that? This alone really makes this book worth reading.

Another thing this book gets right is giving us sufficient information about the politics and the people involved so you understand who they are, and their motivation. And the motivations are grey, not black and white. You get to see the various points of view and how the different sides believe they are in the right. A think the behaviour of some of the characters may surprise you.

One thing I really like about this book is the freshness and originality. Instead of being set in a western European inspired world, Beaulieu has based his world on an Russian inspired culture. Rather than arrows and sailing ships, he has ships that sail through the air as well as flintlock rifles and cannons. And this is just the starting point. I think you will find the magic system and how the battles play out very original as well.

If you are a fan of George R. R. Martin's a Game of Thrones, you might like this series. You have an epic story, detailed world full of magic and complex people, multiple points of view (3 of them), politics, and lots of action. Also, no character in the novel is safe. Personally, I think this series has the strengths of the Song of Ice and Fire series, but not the weaknesses.

I believe if the large book chains displayed the Straits of Galahesh prominently and promoted it, it could be a huge success. The book deserves it and will be so if people would just give it a try.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Galahesh's Burning April 10 2013
By shaun brammer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When I read the first book of the Lays of Anuskaya, The Winds of Khalakovo, I was struck by the authors world-building skills, first and foremost. The influences taken from our world were not the typical medieval European flare, but were more fitting for the Silk Road trade route during the time of the Great Game in the late nineteenth century. I loved the blend of Russian and Islamic cultural influences as well as the use of gunpowder technology. I enjoyed that Mr. Beaulieu could use such a technology and not have the whole story leave the realm of Fantasy and become a steampunk novel. I like the characters he gave to his readers but at the time I didn't become overly attached to them, except perhaps Rehada. My biggest compliant was a lack of full disclosure. I felt that so much of this lush world was being held back by a story that wasn't fleshing out as it should be. As if there were blinders on the side of my head keeping out the rest of the world. Due to the gracious nature of Mr. Beaulieu I was able to read his second book, The Straits of Galahesh. My earlier complaints have been dealt with.

I stated that the characters, while likable, had never given me much to become attached to them. That changed with this publication. Nikandr, who was kind of wishy-washy before, has become a hard man of principle. He possesses his own moral compass and becomes a bridge, unwanted at times, between the Maharraht and the Landed (people from Anuskaya) they despise so much. His captain skills are well tested in this novel, giving him the more heroic air of master and commander of his vessel. Atiana, who before was only head strong, actually became strong. Her skills at taking the dark, a sort of out body technique that allows one to manipulate worldly events, becomes as great as Nikandr's mother, Saphia. Her willingness to put herself in danger gives her a self sacrificing nobility. She thinks fast and charges faster. She becomes a true threat to her enemies and asset to her allies, which explains why devious powers within the story try to use her to their advantage. Nasim, who was a disturbed untalkative boy and therefore was more of a prop in the first installment, has become a young man exploring his power and destiny. Nasim wages a long and complicated intellectual and spiritual battle with the two remaining Al-Aqim, Muqallad and Sariya, who are semi-immortal beings attempting to force upon the world enlightenment, this is actually not a good thing. Nasim also drives himself to find answers to his connection to Khamal, the third Al-Aqim, which in part is found within a group of cursed children turned into demon like creatures. Doing this while trying to stop the other Al-Aqim paints him as an intellectual hero, who pits his life as well as his sanity against the powers of the Al-Aqim.

In this second volume the world of Anuskaya is expanded, it covers a much larger territory and introduces more players for the stage Mr. Beaulieu has created. There is a large empire, Yrstanla, that lies to the west of the Islands of the Grand Duchy. Imagine a Russian culture on multiple small islands similar to Iceland having to face down an Ottoman Turk like empire based on the mainland. Yrstanla mirrors such a Turkic Empire, in that it is organized well and has great technology at it's disposal. It possesses Janissaries, which like the Ottoman version, are highly organized and of one mind, as opposed to the Grand Duchy whose troops come from the different houses of the islands. It possesses more windships, more guns and more people then Anuskaya does. They pose a great threat to Nikandr and Atiana's homeland.

There is also more information given concerning the Maharraht, what their motivations are beside a hate for the Landed, as well as identifying different factions with in their ranks. The Aramahn people, whom make up the members of the terrorist group the Maharraht, believe that people are capable of attaining a state of enlightenment they call indaraqiram. Most peace loving Aramahn believe that this is an individual journey, while others, like the members of the Maharraht believe that all of the world could undergo this transformation, even if forced. Members of the Maharraht are forced to choose between supporting the Al-Aqim, who are/were Aramahn, or taking the sides against them. Helping them reach a decision is one of Nikandr's most trying tasks.

The Al-Aqim are really a new aspect to consider. While they were introduced in The Winds of Khalakovo, their importance to the story was not clear. In The Straits of Galahesh they become the main enemy of all things living. The Al-Aqim, including Khamal, are responsible for the state of the world. The rifts that are identified in the first book which are causing disease and famine are a botched attempt at an experimental religious ritual they initiated centuries ago. This ritual was to bring the whole world into the state of indaraqiram. Muqallad and Sariya, newly escaped from the island prison Khamal left them in, insist on finishing what they started, which will destroy everything.
The main focus of this second installment is to stop the Al-Aqim from finishing their experiment. Muqallad and Sariya manipulate the kingdoms to achieve their goals and it falls to Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim to stop them from doing so. The way they can do this it to keep the last piece of a powerful stone, called Atalayina, out of the Al-Aqim's hands, but they have to do this in the middle of a war that has started between Anuskaya and Yrstanla. Amidst air battles with cannons and elemental magic these three separated heros must find a way to end up at the same place and time as Muqallad and Sariya.

In The Winds of Khalakovo there were plenty of blood pumping battles taking place, between airships and musketeers. I found this style of combat refreshing for the fantasy genre, and was very pleased to see that Mr. Beaulieu added even more in The Straits of Galahesh. This time the battles are bigger, more encompassing, and more exciting. One of the main reasons for this is not just the windships and the descriptive nature of Beaulieu's writing, but the fact that all of his characters are vulnerable. Each of these heros could die, each has fears and weaknesses, they are not the perfect warriors. Atiana tends to be too smart for her own good, over thinking some things. This leads to her falling for traps set by Sariya. Nikandr is always too trusting, putting himself and many of his crew in the hands of potential enemies. Granted, Nikandr does all this in the name of peace, but the risks still seem foolish. Nasim struggles with his confidence. He doubts himself when faced with questions posed by Muqallad. He second guesses his closest allies and places rifts between himself and them at the worst possible times. With each conflict I began to wonder if these scattered heros would survive. Not to mention that the elemental magic featured in the first book is used once again with great effect, giving many of the characters an almost Last Airbender feel and upping the danger factor. The ability Mr. Beaulieu has to convince you that he might kill off his leading roles helps make for good reading.

The Winds of Khalakovo kept the reader on the Islands of the Grand Duchy, never letting you see beyond the sea that surrounds them. The Straits of Galahesh open up that closed door to reveal a more detailed world. Mr. Beaulieu planned this world unveiling well by wetting your appetite with the first book and then providing a much bigger sequel, for the gravity of the conflict becomes greater with a larger world on the line. I am very pleased to have continued reading this imaginative new series and would recommend it to anyone who loves a good rich fantasy world. I think a few steampunk fans might like it as well. Also, like any good fantasy series, you can't start with the second book. So, If you have not read The Winds of Khalakovo go and get a copy and get caught up. If you have and are wondering if you should continue reading the series let me help you decide that, do it.
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