The Winds of Khalakovo Paperback – Apr 1 2011
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About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
I bought this one after reading 12 Kings of Sharakhai, expecting a similar experience that will make me read the book in a few hours.
But so far, it's a big "meeehhh" - boring characters, not as well written as the other ones and a book that I will certainly never finish and delete from my kindle.
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 ›
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
(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.
Everyone who reads The Winds of Khalakovo can't help but to marvel at the wonderful setting. The story takes place on an archipelago ruled by the Grand Duchy, a kingdom with a culture inspired by Tsarist Russia. From the names to the ceremonies, the Grand Duchy is a genuinely different society from what fantasy readers have become accustomed to. No pseudo-Medieval European setting here. The Grand Duchy is spread across the sea, reliant on majestic airships for trade. Alongside the Russian themed Duchy, is the Aramahn a Middle Eastern centric populace, and the Maharraht a violent guerilla movement that wishes to unseat the Grand Duchy from its throne. The culture clash, alongside varying belief systems and magic, give The Winds of Khalakovo an appealing personality that help carry the story even when other elements flag.
The story is told from in third person perspective. Broken up between Nikandr, son of the Duke of Khalakovo, Atiana the woman arranged to become his wife, and the prostitute Rehada who is Nikandr's lover and a member of the Maharraht resistance. Nikandr is fun to read, duty bound to both family and the Grand Duchy he makes for an agreeable hero with his fare share of imperfections. Atiana surprisingly became my favorite of the three. Despite conflicting interests Atiana is very active when it comes to influencing her own fate. Rehada, on the other hand, is nowhere near as strong a character as the other two. A lot of the things Rehada does seem contradictory at best and I was never able to empathize with her personal vendetta against the Grand Duchy.
I mentioned some rough edges there at the beginning of the review and the plot is among them. The politicking between the Dukes is a real high point. The alliances and arrangements, the rules enforced by the Matra (the telepathic women who are really in charge of the Duchy) are all very intriguing. What starts with an arranged marriage and ends in all out civil war is by far the most compelling part of the book. I've seen comparisons made between The Winds of Khalakovo and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The comparisons are appropriate a degree. Regrettably the supernatural aspects of the book are far less refined and the apocalypse of sorts set in motion by the Maharraht is vague at best.
Here is my biggest problem with The Winds of Khalakovo. Ironically it seems to be the same obstacle my boss, Steve Diamond, over at Elitist Book Reviews had. Clarity. Once you get acclimated to the Russian terms they don't prove to be too bothersome but a lot of the story is indistinct. The magic system in place seems to lack definite boundaries and the mystical events are obscure and difficult to follow. This would be much easier to overlook if the magic wasn't the driving force behind the plot but it really detracted from my enjoyment.
The Winds of Khalakovo is the opening part of a series with limitless potential. I have super high hopes for the sequel, The Straits of Galahesh which was just recently released. Beaulieu has created a tremendously original world inhabited by compelling characters. What is not to love about a fantasy novel inhabited by airship flying Russians? The Winds of Khalakovo is a challenging read but it is certainly worth giving a chance and I am confident that Beaulieu can address the concerns present, and carry on all the stronger.
*The magical Goatfairy grants The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley Beaulieu, 7 out of 10 cheesewands*
Goatfairy Review Blog
Russia is one of these. Oh, there have been novels set in Russia's past, but unique cultures and societies based on the grammar of Russian culture are thin on the ground. The only one that comes immediately to mind is Sarah Zettel's Isavalta sequence of novels.
Bradley Beaulieu has decided to help fill in that gap. In the Winds of Khalakovo, Beaulieu introduces us to a secondary world, an archipelago dominated world. The culture of the Landed, the dominant race and people of the islands, borrows heavily from the Russian. Titles of the nobility have a distinctly Russian bent, as do the names for units of the military, governance, names, and more. Food and drink are distinctly Russian. Clothing on this cold world also features traditional modes of Russian dress as well.
That would be enough invention for an epic fantasy world for many, but Beaulieu goes further, adding in an underclass, the Landless Aramahn, whose culture and customs are reminiscent of ancient Persia and the Middle East, and feel much like the Romany of Eastern Europe. The names for the elemental spirits, the various types of hezhan, that the Aramahn have connection to continues this line of inspiration.
The Winds of Khalakovo focuses mainly on three central characters:
Nikandr, Prince of the Khalakovo , youngest son of the reigning Duke and Duchess of that archipelago.
Atiana is a Princess of Vostroma, daughter of the Duke and Duchess. She has a brother, and two sisters.
The two families, Vostroma and Khalakovo, have carefully arranged an impending marriage between them., and the two have known each other, on and off, since they were children. Atiana's brother Borund and Nikandr regard each other as friends.
And then there is Rehada. She is an Aramahn, and has been Nikandr's mistress for some time. And she is, unbeknownst to her royal lover, far more than the wandering Aramahn than she appears to be.
With the politics and tension of the impending marriage hovering over the island, it is exactly at this time that that Maharraht, an outlawed sect of the Aramahn seeking to relieve their oppression, strike out viciously, propelling Nikandr, Atiana and Rehada into their own plans for the future of the islands. And there are others who would take advantage of the chaos, for their own political gain.
Beaulieu takes his time in setting up the central conflict and action in the novel, taking an almost leisurely amount of time to establish his world and his characters before unleashing the first notes of the problem of the novel. While this does allow for readers to get up to speed on an unfamiliar world, I think Beaulieu might have been a bit too leisurely. There are a couple of minor conflicts early on that allow for some character development and tension, but putting off the first major "bang" relatively deep into the book, I think, is problematic. Also problematic, I think, is some of the characterization in the book. The relationship between Nikandr and his sister Victania for example, is something I only really got a handle on from Nikandr's side--there isn't a lot to go on the other side to really round out the relationship. The relationship between Nikandr and Atiana, too, I think, needed a little more work and development. The Nikandr-Rehada relationship, I think, is written in stronger terms.
Those issues aside, however, there is a lot here for epic fantasy fans to sink their teeth into. As I said in the opening to this review, Beaulieu has taken the opportunity to mine some unexplored veins for ideas in this secondary world. There is a genius to use Russian culture on a world template--an archipelago, very different than one might expect in a Russian culture inspired novel. Archipelagos are an uncommon and underused setting for secondary world novels. It helps reinforce the secondary world feel of the book and is a great choice, I think, for the world building.
Unusually for secondary world fantasy, gunpowder or something like it does work in this universe. The soldiers and other characters carry single shot muskets, and there are cannon on ships and fortifications.
And then there are the airships. While there are indications that there are ships that brave the aquatic currents between the islands and archipelagos, the primary conveyance between islands are flying ships, powered and propelled by Aramahn who can control spirits of wind and life. Beaulieu takes full advantage of these windship. They are lovingly described in detail, and in contrast to the otherwise Russian terminology, Beaulieu uses Western naval names for ship parts and types of ships. Given the lack of a real naval tradition in Russia, this choice does make sense, but it does break the Russian immersion of the culture a little bit. As you might expect, a lot of the action scenes in the novel take place on board the ships, and there is airship-airship duels and combats. This allows the author to insert a fair share of swashbuckling and feats of derring do.
Another excellent bit of development in the novel is the differing approaches to magic by the Landed, Nikandr and the other families, and the Landless Aramahn. While the latter control elemental spirits and have the most visible magic, the Matra of the families of the duchies have a magic all of their own, their own methods of magic an interesting contrast, and far more subtle than summoning hezhan.
For a first novel, Beaulieu shows a good command of language. The book is written in a third person past tense point of view, except for some special situations. Although I thought it was a mistake by the author at first, those times when he breaks that tense and point of view combination are deliberate, and are a subtle signal to the reader of something I will allow you to discover as I did.
(A longer version of this review originally appeared at the Functional Nerds)