Truth be told, Bradley P. Beaulieu's debut wasn't on my reading schedule. And then, either Scott Lynch or Saladin Ahmed (can't remember whom) got in touch with me, saying that Beaulieu had roomed with them at the World Fantasy Con or Worldcon and that perhaps I'd like to take a look at The Winds of Khalakovo. After that, Beaulieu's emails somehow always ended up in my spam folder and it took forever for us to set something up. It didn't look as though I would have time to read the book before the end of the year, but I agreed to post an extract.
The author sent me a complimentary copy of book nonetheless, one I truly wanted to read after going through the excerpt that went up on the Hotlist. I was intrigued by the flying ships and the whole Russian feel that appeared to permeate the story.
And boy am I glad I gave The Winds of Khalakovo a shot! Indeed, if not for a few shortcomings, Beaulieu's debut had the potential to be one of the very best fantasy debuts of all time.
Here's the blurb:
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.Read more ›
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When I picked up Winds, I didn't know what to expect. It had a gorgeous cover and an esteemed writer friend had recommended it. Well, what a surprise I had.
Winds of Khalakovo has all the elements of a great fantasy epic - compelling and conflicted characters, adventure, intrigue and politics, a fascinating magic system, and a written style that just flows. Most of all, though: the worldbuilding. Between the islands, the four-masted skyships, the two clashing culture, all in beautiful nuance and details, it's impossible not to be pulled into the universe.
Beaulieu has a knack for combining elements of fantasy that feels familiar and natural but completely new. He brings a refreshing story to the world of epic fantasy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
An intriguing fantasyJuly 1 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
As I've read through reviews at another site, it seems that some readers have a hard time with this book because of the Russian flavor--too many unfamiliar names, they say. Maybe it's because I've read some of the works of Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov, and Turgenev, but the Russian names didn't bother me. It took a little bit to get used to them, since fantasy novels so often use Celtic or otherwise Western European names, but then it was kind of refreshingly different. I did have to look up a word or two that wasn't Russian because I was unfamiliar with the archaic or alternate spelling ("gaoler" for "jailer," for example).
I was worried that the story might be awkwardly pieced together when I saw one of the central characters described in the summary as an autistic savant. That kind of real-world technical term just wouldn't fit in the oftentimes archaic language of fantasy. Thankfully, the book is never so explicit about the boy's mental condition; in fact, I was left not even sure that it's an accurate description, because the character of his mental state is only described (never given a name) and is so enmeshed with the magics of Anuskaya.
I did find the story a little bit difficult to follow at times, but in a good way--it kept me thinking, trying to figure out what exactly was going on. That much actually did remind me of some of the Russian literature I've read. And the mix of technology and magic reminds me of the Final Fantasy rpg series, with airships and summoning and so on.
In all, it's not the easiest read you'll pick up, but if you're okay with that, the story and the characters are quite interesting. An enjoyable read.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Epic Style Fantasy With Too Many FlawsMarch 21 2012
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In ambition, The Winds of Khalakovo (Winds) is not so different from A Song of Fire and Ice and any of the other well regarded fantasy epics. There are several different POV perspectives, an imaginative magic system and mythos, political intrigue, romance, lots of battles and a lengthy book that appears to contemplate sequels (I have not checked for them). The problems, however, are many:
(1) one paragraph will be in the POV of one character, and the next paragraph will be a POV from another character with no warning. Normally when people mention this issue in other books I am not bothered by it, but here it was kind of a bigger deal, an actual and repeated annoyance. At least give us * * * to denote POV changes. Something;
(2) the "romance" is poorly done - one character basically falls in love because a prince tries hard at a dance;
(3) the politics are very important to the book but thinly sketched (despite the book's length). For example, there is a hugely important rebel faction that is apparently mad because they had their land stolen. I say apparently, because we are never told anything about the history of this conflict, dont know what land was stolen when or anything of that sort. When a war breaks out among the "Landed" (the folks that apparently collectively stole the rebels land) it doesnt feel convincing;
(4) the magic system and mythos has too many very different components, and while parts of it work quite well, the tie in with the overall plot does not. There is a spirit world with powerful fire/water/air/wind spirits and some can bond/control them to an extent. Other folks have the talent for assuming a sort of astral form when submerged in cold water, and these folks are used for communication, and to help tame the wind currents. Still other folks have the talent for actually manipulating the winds so that ships can fly from island to island. Those parts are fine, and in spots actually work quite well. There are some fun sky-ship battles, for example. But there is much beyond that -- reborn wizards, a seemingly autistic kid, magic gems that get created what feels like randomly, a plot involving the autistic kid, a growing "rift", spirits sucking on souls, a wasting disease, and as you get towards the end, it starts to feel made up as the author went along. Lots of potential and creativity, but the author maybe got a little too ambitious and/or didnt do a good enough job of making his imagination serve the plot. Too many moving parts that dont mesh well enough;
(5) the book really seems to be heading towards a resolution in one volume, and then it just doesnt. What with the overly-complicated mythos, I was just feeling lost and/or like the author was tacking stuff on at the end to try to keep going.
I really feel like this author has a strong imagination, and is *close* to being able to write convincing epic fantasy. Winds has a pretty decent amount of action, and the action sequences seem to be pretty well done. However, I almost gave this book 2 stars, because -- in trying for an epic feel -- this book sets the bar too high. I feel like if the author had just scaled back his ambitions a little and focused on a tighter plot, he could have written something I would give 4 or 5 stars. This, however, is not that book.
Bottom line: Soft 3 star rating. I do not recommend it, but its possible you might like it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Richly detailed epic fantasy with complex characters and fascinating worldbuildingMay 31 2011
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The Winds of Khalakovo is a richly detailed epic fantasy that focuses on the clash between two very different cultures - the ruling Landed (inspired by Czarist Russia), and the indigenous Aramahn (a nomadic people with religious beliefs reminiscent of Buddhism). A splinter faction of the Aramahn, the Maharraht, is locked in a guerilla war against the Landed, hoping to drive them from the archipelago where the book is set. Beaulieu does an excellent job of depicting the tensions and politics of the world using three main viewpoint characters: Nikandr, a prince of the Landed; Rehada, his Aramahn lover, who is also a spy for the Maharraht; and Atiana, the Landed princess Nikandr is meant to marry. All three are complex, fully realized characters, and Beaulieu handles their separate arcs with wonderful aplomb. Rehada's struggle with the desire for revenge combined with her feelings of betrayal toward her people and her beliefs is particularly well done. The novel has a terrific mix of intrigue and action, and the worldbuilding is fascinating: skyships and gunpowder mix with two separate magical systems: the Aramahn shamans controlling elemental spirits, and the telepathic Matri of the Landed. Best of all is the way Beaulieu deftly weaves the major plot threads together and builds the action to a truly epic climax. If you're a fan of epic fantasy, don't miss this one.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
One of the best recent fantasy debutsAug. 1 2012
Matthew M Rush
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I started reading the paperback I bought at World Fantasy Convention 2011, but I soon switched to Kindle, when that edition was offered up for free (as a promotion, not the author's gift to me for review). In the interest of full disclosure, I will also point out that I know Brad, a little. I met him at WFC because we have some mutual friends, and I first fell in love with his writing after hearing him read from the sequel to this novel.
Now, all that being said, none of it affected my enjoyment of this book, which is one of the best fantasy debuts I've ever come across.
So, it's been about two weeks since I finished this book, and I needed that time, because it was a lot to absorb. I was a huge fan of epic fantasy when I was young--Tolkien was my first love, but authors like Eddings, Jordan, Brooks and others filled my shelves as a teen--but of late I've read very little of it. George Martin is really the only fantasy I've read this decade, and I can't even call A Song of Ice and Fire, High or True Fantasy (not that I mean that as a slight, George's books are phenomenal, just very nontraditional, in a good way). Bradley's book is incredibly similar in its inability to fit into a tidy little box.
There were some things that struck me about this novel as the levels through which I was introduced to it expanded.
- The cover. It's a steampunk-ish, alternate world, air-ship orgasm of a cover, and yet it's painted with such an air of mystery, it's clear this is no juvenile manga-style tale of another world (not that I don't love those too, but I digress) - Brad's reading from what was then probably a third stage draft of the sequel. Brad's voice, tone, diction, and resonance probably played a part, but for me it was really the richness of language and culture that drew me in. I heard him read from the sequel before I read the original, but it gave me enough of a taste for the world that I knew I would have to return. - The cultures. I don't want to attribute every fantasy I ever read to Tolkien, because as much as I wish it did, it doesn't work that way, and another thing that makes Winds stand out to me is the fact that is does not borrow Orcs, or Elves, or Dwarves. It includes the landed of the great duchies, who are only very loosely based on Tsarist Russia, who I thought were mostly pretty cool, except for amazing standout characters like Nikandr, Atiana, and Victania, but more importantly it included the fascinating Aramahn, a culture that was part Indian Hindi, part Arabic Muslim, and part Japanese Buddhist, whose religion, or more specifically, spiritual system of beliefs, was what really drove this story for me. It's key characters were the morally conflicted Rehada, the vaguely autistic Nasim, his guide and elder Ashan, and the clearly devout, confused, radical, and yet still sympathetic Soroush. The Aramahn really made this book for me, and I look forward to the subsequent volumes in which I hope they will explored even more deeply.
If I had to make one complaint, it would be that the pacing dragged a bit for me in the middle third. However, I suspect this was only due to the fact that I'd been reading so many 60,000 word YA novels lately, and I doubt that most fantasy readers would take issue. People who read a lot of high fantasy understand that a world this rich takes time to build, and you can't just dump it all on the reader. Regardless, the final third of the novel made it all worth it. There were almost sort of two separate climaxes, both of which I thought were done very well and thoroughly enjoyed.
I would recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys fantasy, but also for anyone who is looking for something truly new and unique.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Really enjoyed the Russian flavor and sound scapesMarch 31 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
I was intrigued by the imperial Russian influences hinted at in the description. I was not disappointed. In fact there was a fair bit of Russian or Russian-ish language throughout the book. In fact, I do wonder if a non-Russian speaker would have picked up on the meanings of the words and names for things, but it wasn't a problem for me. I enjoyed that aspect quite a bit.
Having recently watched (although not having read) Game of Thrones, I was struck by similarity in genre -- definitely fantasy evidenced by the magical elements of the world inhabited by people who commune with spirits in a parallel spirit world and masted ships which fly though the air in a three dimensional way similar to ships on the sea -- but also with a feeling of historical fiction, telling a story of rival dynasties and arranged marriages and conflicts between the aristocracy and the oppressed peasantry-other.
I think I will definitely read more of Beaulieu. Although I found some of the narrative a little hard to follow at times -- especially during action scenes -- I was incredibly impressed with his ability to describe a setting, particularly by capturing light, smell, and sound. I was often struck by the perfection of a description, actually stopping to marvel: "I know exactly what that sounds/smells like!" The rhythm of his dialog was good, as well. If for nothing else, I would recommend this book on that alone. It is a treat to experience writing like that.