Immediately upon first seeing it’s cover art, The Winds of Khalakovo became one of the books I was most excited about. My decision wasn’t solely based on cover art loving shallowness - Bradley P. Beaulieu’s debut also had quite the intriguing premise. 450 pages of windships, elemental spirits, vivid landscapes and absorbing characters later, I can’t say my excitement was misplaced. Beaulieu delivers an impressive first novel. It’s far from perfect, indeed it suffers from a few typical debut issues, but on the whole it is able to offer and enjoyable fantasy reading experience, one that issues a story not set wholly in the familiar but with hints of it amongst overwhelming originality.
Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, it 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, and 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.
When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...
The Winds of Khalakovo is a hard book to define or fit in a particular sub-genre of fantasy - something I’m always somewhat reluctant to do. If you’re in to that sort of thing, though, you might say that The Winds of Khalakovo is a subtle blend of ‘flintlock’ fantasy and elements of more conventional fantasy. But Beaulieu incorporates a number of fresh ideas to his worldbuilding and story: the ‘mast-on-all-sides’ windships and workings of the magic system examples of that. To be fair, none of these are extravagantly original ideas, and some of it has already been seen before in a slightly different form, but Beaulieu puts just enough of a spin on them to make them appear shiny and new to the reader.
Despite a bit of meandering start, Beaulieu quickly immerses the reader in the story he wishes to tell. The characters shine early on and do so until the end; the prose is surprisingly refined, aptly depicting the resplendent landscape of Khalakovo; and the story develops into multiple, well-constructed arcs. The only fault I can find with Beaulieu’s writing is that on occasion it lacks the flourish of a more experienced writer which would help make it shine that much brighter and give a bit more drive to the narrative.
Nikandr, the book’s main character, leans towards being a more stereotypical hero than not though he does have his particularities that make him stand out. It would be easy to classify him as your average prince-hero reluctantly taking up his duties. Though there is some of that, Nikandr immediately proves to be more complex than that - he has a very personal drive to heal the world and those he loves and doesn’t let much get in the way of that. The close attachment he develops with Nasim is touching and, like much of the emotional interactions between the book’s characters, comes across as genuine.
The book’s conflict too, as it turns out, is more complex that how it may appear at first - so much so that things can get a bit muddled in the middle. Beaulieu pulls through this remarkably well when one considers this is his first novel and brings things together for an eventful finale. When things come down to a three-way windship battle with elemental spirits and diverging loyalties on all sides you can tell you’ve got more than just a straightforward story. And one that verges on being outright awesome. The Winds of Khalakovo hold’s its share of political intrigue, action and mysteries to satisfy the greater majority of its potential readership.
The Winds of Khalakovo is a very praise-worthy debut, one championed by an engaging story, strong believable characters and a richly detailed world. Beaulieu shows readers here that he plans on making a name for himself in the fantasy genre, and he has every right to if he continues to write books like this one. The Winds of Khalakovo begins an all new series, which after this first book promises very good things indeed. A highly recommendable debut.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Bradley P. Beaulieu's Website: http://quillings.com/
Buy The Winds of Khalakovo: