BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Spurred by the murder of the Grand Duke, Prince Nikandr must find a way to avert hostilities and save the Grand Duchy from a horrible sickness.
PROS: A richly detailed unique setting, interesting ideas, challenging read, compelling characters, windships!
CONS: Clarity issues make it difficult to follow in spots, challenging read (it’s a pro and a con!)
BOTTOM LINE: There are a number of issues, but the price of admission is well worth the show.
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. 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 guerrilla 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. 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? What I found was a book that distinguishes itself in a genre saturated and somewhat stagnate in the setting department. I found a book with some rough edges and clarity issues, but also the start of a series with prime potential. 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.