BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Nikandr and his fellow Anuskayans struggle to keep both war and cataclysm from destroying their world.
PROS: Excellent ending; conflict and stakes clearly laid out and followed through; strong worldbuilding and character development.
CONS: Some characters are cheated out of a more definite denouement; takes a long time to gain momentum.
BOTTOM LINE: A fine and fitting conclusion to the Lays of Anuskaya Trilogy.
The war between the superpower Yrstanla and The Duchy seems destined to go Yrstanla’s way unless their superior strength of arms can be blunted, turned aside, or tied up somewhere else. The wasting disease continues to ravage populations old and new alike. And, of course, The Rifts threatening the Duchy, Yrstanla and the rest of the world continue to open. And the power that opened them seeks to finish the job. Nikandr, Atiana and the rest of the Grand Duchy, and beyond, have a War to stop, the possible solution to the Rift problem to find and rescue, and a world to save before it tears itself apart on both the social and the literal level. But what sacrifices are going to be necessary, and will they be enough?
The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is the third and final novel in Bradley Beaulieu’s Lays of Anuskaya Trilogy, following The Winds of Khalakovo, and The Straits of Galahesh. Following the former two’s publication via Night Shade Books, this third volume, due to the tsuris surrounding Nightshade, is a direct publication from the author funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The strengths of The Flames of Shadam Khoreh are very much the same as we seen throughout the series: a big complex universe with interesting worldbuilding and magic systems. (We see new kinds of magic and more backstory on the nature of this universe, to my delight.) We continue with Nikandr and Atiana as our primary point-of-view characters and not only gain Nasim, but a new, fourth POV, Styophan, a soldier from the Grand Duchy. We get a widescreen view of the conflict between Yrstlanla and the Grand Duchy from a variety of perspectives, even as the just-as-important esoteric conflict brews as well. The novel answers some niggling questions I’ve had throughout the series, as for, example, just why the Grand Duchy eschews water born craft so much. The matter of why the rifts are forming, and how the world has gotten into this mess comes into sharp relief, as well as the possible outcomes.
Like the second novel in relation to the the first, the third novel takes place a couple of years after the previous one. I appreciate a novelist who is willing to offstage events, and who expects and trust readers to come up to speed. It does also mean that, to a certain extent, every novel does stand alone, requiring a re-immersion into the drowning pool to get reacquainted with the characters, world, and how things stand now.
But just like the previous novels, though, and in superior epic fantasy, it’s the characters that really make The Flames of Shadam Khoreh special. Nikandr and Atiana, especially, have grown and changed since their first onscreen appearance so many pages ago and the events that signpost the road between there and here (both on and offscreen) have clearly marked and changed them. The decisions, choices, and yes, sacrifices made by all of the four major POV characters (and the panoply of secondary characters besides) feel grounded in plausible motivations and fears.
The ending, too, is a highwire act that both surprised me, fulfilled and satisfied my expectations, and felt true to the series as a whole. The ending works on the levels of world building and the conflict Beaulieu has set up. To say much more of the details would land this review firmly in spoilerish territory I am loath to tread, but looking back over the entire series, I thought the ending was more than satisfactory.
The major weakness I found is similar to my reads of The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh, and might be more of a case of author style than a fatal flaw. Like those previous novels, especially the later, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh is a very slow burn to a big explosion of a final set of acts. Beaulieu is a bit too patient in setting up his pins and preparing for the final sets of conflicts that define the novel. Like an avalanche roaring down the Urals, when events start moving, they move with a roaring exhilaration, but it takes a lot of work on the reader’s part, too much, to get there.
Too, I think a couple of the characters from the series did get a little bit of a short shrift, or at least some things about their fate and role could have been more defined. I would have, for instance, really liked a point of view from Atiana’s sister Ishkyna.
Overall, though, especially for his first trilogy, the ambition and scope that the authors lays down since the first page of The Winds of Khalakovo is paid off and finalized well in this last volume of the trilogy. In remarkably short order, Beaulieu has marked himself as an epic fantasist that any reader of the subgenre should take a look at. His work is not for those new to the form, but for readers familiar and ready for the length and complexity, The Lays of Anuskaya is a rewarding read. I look forward to the future efforts of the writer and how he builds his skills from this most promising foundation for a career.