Bradley Beaulieu is one of my go-to-authors in present day fantasy - breaking new grounds with every single release of his - and so, it was with barely restrained excitement, that I plunged back into the ruthless but gloriously realized desert world of Sharakhai, Of sand dunes and dark horrifying prophecies, of blood magic and the terrifying consequences. Of demons and their curses. It was a welcome return back to the wind-lashed sand-dunes in the Mother of Sand, the sheesha-dens and the roaring fighting-pits - right back into the lives of Cedahmin Ahyanesh and her friends, one more time.
Ceda was one of the most formidable heroines/protagonists introduced to the fantasy genre last year and I was more than happy to partner up again, this time against demoniacal forces formed of the whims of the desert-gods who decides to wreck havoc in her life. Of Sand and Malice Made is a three-part novella that traces the life of our protagonist, a couple of years before the events of the Twelve Kings. And this mainly is her story of her being pitted against an ehrek, a djinn of sorts with twisted desires whose fate gets intertwined with Ceda's.
We meet Ceda as a sixteen year old up-and-coming fighter in the pits, popularly known as the White Wolf, setting out for her fight as the novel opens up. Ceda, also has recently started her night-runs, smuggling messages and artifacts for Osman, an ex-fighter who's made the big league and has his own businesses now with a stake also in the pits. one of her missions gets thwarted and lands her in trouble with a high-society lady, who unfortunately is also under the protection of Rumayesh, an ehrek or a mythological magical creature formed of the whimsical fantasies of a deranged desert God.
Ceda's adventures puts her in direct conflict with Rumayesh and she also attracts the attention of a couple of Godlings or God-children, in this city for their own vested agendas. The webs run deep and wide and soon, Ceda finds herself enmeshed in this unexplained game of cat and mouse with the ehrek in her city and it's not just her own life at stake but her loved ones.
As you can make out, this tale is deeply, richly and un-apologetically magical. Gods, curses, blood magic and prophecies; Bradley owns all these elements in his rollicking desert tale in a manner so original that it didn't feel for one bit, unnatural or forced. For new readers, this book forms the perform pit-stop to hop on into Ceda's life without feeling overwhelmed. But if you haven't read his Twelve Kings yet, then you should be rushing off to buy it.
As you can imagine, this book is solely about Ceda and her fears and misgivings make her a realistic protagonist to back up. The uncertainties of a sixteen year old living in this harsh desert world and the deals she makes to get by in life. Of the other characters, I really liked Brama. The boy, another gutter-ren growing up in the streets of Sharakhai was a nicely etched out character who gets caught up in the schemes of Rumayesh through his own folly and greed. Emre and Osman, some familiar names from the first book in the Song of the Shattered Sands series make their appearances as well in this world that is already familiar to fans of the neo-arabian-nights-esque tale.
A fitting addition to this absolutely gorgeous and lush epic fantasy, if you haven't read this series as yet, then Of Sand and Malice Made is an apt springboard into this magical world of sand dunes and killing fields. You won't be disappointed.