Book Review: With Blood Upon the Sand

Book Review: With Blood Upon the Sand

You might conclude from my review of Bradley Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai that I loved the book and the world he created. You would be correct.

So it will come as no surprise to learn that on the release day for With Blood Upon the Sand, I waltzed to my local Barnes & Noble, impatiently made them go get a copy from the back (because they hadn't put them out yet) and then waltzed back home to start reading it (despite the enormous stack of "To Reads" currently sitting on my shelf).

With Blood Upon the Sand picks up where Twelve Kings left off. Having already killed one king, our heroine Ceda is now a Blade Maiden. She continues her training, dealing with a new Maiden who hates her and learning from Zaide about the plots within plots that lurk in Tauriyat's shadow. Ramahd and Meryam fall prey to the blood mage Hamzakiir and must find a way to achieve their ends without him. And Emre works with the Moonless Host to bring down the kings, setting up the scheme that results in the book's most climactic moment.

There's a lot to like here, because there's a lot of book here - With Blood Upon the Sand is definitely a doorstopper. While it never feels too slow, I think certain sequences could be easily trimmed without affecting the plot (some of Ceda's flashbacks are definitely unnecessary and while I like Davud, I'm not sure he needed to be a POV). There's plenty of action housed within its 662 pages, so it doesn't suffer from middle book syndrome, but the rise and fall of the story feels uneven, heavily weighted toward the last 100 pages or so. It's by no means bad, but it doesn't feel as tight as Twelve Kings did.

There, that's all my griping out of the way.

This second book in the series gives us even greater insight into the characters. The introduction of Yndris as a foil to Ceda works wonderfully, and her entire arc is one of the most realistically portrayed storylines - let's face it, we all know people like that. Ceda also matures throughout the book, growing more confident as a fighter and developing the values that set her apart from the Host's methods. There's a big familial revelation for her (not her father, but her mother's family), but if you've been paying an ounce of attention to the story, you'll see it coming a mile away. It's still satisfying though, playing out in one of the book's best chapters.

The other characters get their share too. Zaide, in particular, grew on me here as we learn more about the work she's been doing, the long-term plans to dethrone the kings that she represents. And Sumeya warms to Ceda a bit more; she's far less antagonistic, which lets you appreciate her leadership amid emotional turmoil.

There's also SO MUCH DELICIOUS BACKSTORY. I love learning more about the kings and the gods and what happened between them. The expansion of Ihsan as a POV helps with this, and I have to say, he is not what I expected based on book one. There's also a beautiful story playing out beneath the main plot as Ceda learns more about and works to free the asirim, framed by the opening scene and the climax.

The introduction of Hamzakiir gives us a greater window into blood magic, and Ramahd's opening chapters in particular are a treat. Hamzakiir makes a great secondary (tertiary? the cards are pretty stacked against Ceda) villain. If I'm being honest, he's probably the most terrifying, and the first encounter with his "creations" stuck in my mind as one of the more disturbing and vivid scenes I've read in an epic fantasy.

And it all concludes with more kings dead and Sharakhai in peril. The ending is a solid semi-cliffhanger that'll leave you guessing about the events of the next book.

Final verdict? Not quite as good as Twelve Kings for me, but still an outstanding book and one I would highly recommend. I'm following Beaulieu's progress on A Veil of Spears via Twitter, and I can't wait!

Grade: 4.5/5

Memorable Quote:

For long seconds, all was silence. But then, as if she were rotting from the inside out, the woman’s skin began to darken. Like a dirty wet rag left to dry in the sun, her already-tight skin drew in further, until she looked almost indistinguishable from the asirim, the sad creatures that lived beneath the groves of adichara trees far out in the desert. Ceda had been purposely masking her presence from the asirim, but she could hardly ignore the woman below, who shone like a beacon in her mind, shedding darkness instead of light. The woman was one of them now, and they were calling to her: a paean to her pain, but also a welcome to their clan.

Breath of the desert, the Kings had created an asir.
— With Blood Upon the Sand, pg. 8
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