Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Book Review: The Winds of Khalakovo
With the wedding drawing nigh, Khalakovo is to host all the nine dukes of Anuskaya but a conflict has arisen between the nobles and the Maharraht, a fanatical group of indigenous Aramahn folk. When the Maharraht unleash a deadly elemental spirit on the Grand Duke and his retinue Nikandr must track down the militants and the child prodigy they are using to unleash the spirits. For Nikandr, it's a race against time because the nobles are calling for blood and looking for enemies among both the peaceful Aramahn and the Khalakovo family. Nikandr must find some answers before an all out war erupts.
The Winds of Khalakovo is one of the fantasy debuts from last year that was well received and scored a lot of positive reviews. Add to that what appears to be a fairly unique setting for an epic fantasy, and I am lured in. The positive reviews are mostly well deserved as this was a solid debut, though not without a few flaws. The story took a fairly good chunk of the book to get rolling, and lacked any sort of tension for about the first 100 pages or thereabouts. Rather than develop plot right out the gates, author Bradley P. Beaulieu instead chose to do some world building and introduce his characters. This approach did help me get a feel for the setting, and the people that populate the world, but it wasn't the most exciting start to the novel, and as a result, I had a hard time getting engaged by the narrative. I think the story would have been stronger had the plot development, character development and world building been woven together more tightly.
The setting here is a unique one. The place names and character names give The Winds of Khalakovo a distinct Russian feel, and the windswept archipelago geography is pretty cool too. I gotta give Beaulieu credit, he definitely found his story a unique setting without pushing epic fantasy readers too far outside of their usual European-like setting comfort zone. That said, there were a lot of the same elements that we see played out repeatedly in the genre at play here as well. Beaulieu does play with and challenge a few of these norms though, especially in terms of his female characters, and I for one was greatly pleased. Personally, I'd love to see more authors do the same thing as Beaulieu has done, but push the normative boundaries even further.
With the natural elements such as harsh winds, harsh weather, and harsh topography playing such a big role in the world building, it was nice to see the natural elements play a big role in the magic system that Beaulieu has created too. Among the indigenous Aramahn people there are those with the ability to bind elemental spirits and use these spirits to harness the power of earth, air, water, fire and the "raw stuff of life", (or, dare I say, "heart" Go Planet!) Captain Planet references aside, I was fan of the magic system. It didn't require any lengthy explanations or seem too complex, yet at the same time, worked well for the world it occurred in.
Once the plot does get rolling, Beaulieu delivers a pretty solid and entertaining ending. I wouldn't say that this is a fast paced, action packed novel, but probably more of a slow-burn style novel. That's not to say this one is devoid of action though as Beaulieu gives the reader a number of aerial battles between the windships. However, these action scenes came across as a bit choppy and hard to follow. This is due a bit to the fact that the windships are a unique concept, thus the battles a bit tough to envision, but also a result of Beaulieu's still developing skills. In a book that was a bit slow paced for my tastes, the fact that the action scenes left something to be desired took away from my overall enjoyment.
Like I said, this is a solid fantasy debut, but brought down a bit by some flaws, particularly the pacing, which made it difficult for me to really get into this novel. This was pretty much a middle of the road read for me, nothing too terrible to really take away my enjoyment, but nothing extra special to set it apart from the crowd either. I'm definitely in a wait and see holding pattern on the sequel for now.