Book Review: A Desert Torn Asunder

Name: A Desert Torn Asunder

Series: Song of the Shattered Sands, Book #6

Author- Bradley P. Beaulieu

Release Date- 13 July 2021

Publisher- Gollancz

Genre- Epic Fantasy, Fantasy Fiction, Dark Fantasy

Blurb: 

After the battle of Mazandir which resulted in the destruction of the crystal, the gateway to farther fields is open but not wide enough, but that can change and the young gods have become more conniving in their plan. Queen Meryam is on a quest to raise the fallen elder God Ashael to regain her power. Ceda and Emre need to unmask Hamid’s treachery in order to ensure the survival of the tribe and Sharakhai in general.

It is time for priorities to shift in the larger scope of things. Ihsan, meanwhile, has to unravel the young Gods’ plans in order to save all that is dear to him. Should the gateway widen, it will lead to the destruction of Sharakhai itself. What cost is everyone willing to pay to save all that is dear to them?

Review:-

Every chapter is based on a separate POV, all running parallel to each other. Ceda is no longer the sole protagonist. Meryam, Ihsan, the scheming gods, David, Emre all play equal parts. Right from the beginning of the narrative one cannot let their concentration waiver, for the plot will be lost in the complex storyline. As each page of the chapter is turned, as each chapter leads to the next, the tension is palpable. For an advanced reader who is all too familiar with the feeling-the impending action, the gradual nearing of the finale, it’s no less than a ride and that’s what the book makes you feel.

The most challenging part is keeping up with the plot, knowing the end is converging doesn’t make it easier for the journey which demands to be enjoyed.

The various plot povs that run alongside each other are-

  • Meryam goes on a quest to raise Ashael and claim Sharakhai for herself even if it means laying waste to anything and everything that comes in between her and the desert jewel.
  • Ceda and Emre try to rally the rebellious tribal alliance to her cause, by exposing Hamid and his treachery,to save Sharakhai.
  • Ihsan is on a path to stop Meryam not only to save his family but to save Sharakhai by unravelling the young gods’ plans.
  • Ramahad knows Meryam like no one else yet he is always two steps behind. If Ramahad cannot stop her, no one can.
  • Davud knows that the gateway has to close but has difficulty ensuring queen Alansal sees it in the same way.
  • The young gods are ever too careful, ever too fearful, for their interference could bind them to the mortal world, effectively failing a plan 400 years in the making.

Until the first quarter of the book – Davud and Meryam’s POV takes precedence and I feel like Ceda, who began as the main protagonist becomes a supporting character. Compared to Davud and Meryam’s work, Ceda’s story seems like a child’s play but that changes and in the end, she lives up the name and fame she has gathered throughout the series. Her part in the story possesses the right balance, not too heroic nor too stoic.

While all characters are familiar by now, there‘s the one new and mysterious, Queen Alansal. She’s as powerful as Meryam, and more regal and composed and not to mention intelligent but beyond that, the true depth of her character is not clear. Bradley P. Beaulieu has written many novellas as a part of the series. I am hoping that there’s one with Queen Alansal.

Her involvement is less when compared to the other characters but equally powerful. But there’s one aspect the queen has in common with the Sharakhai kings, the veil of authority and power. In spite of her reasoning and intelligence, she makes the same mistakes the kings made, failing to see the big picture. It might seem infuricating but it’s the most practical way to depict a person in power who is not the antagonist of the story. It goes to say that it’s not just the villains that are in over their heads, it’s all those whose heads wear responsibility.

Speaking of characters, the role each plays is a perfect fit. There’s no emotional outburst or change of heart trope usually found in fantasy books. Every dialogue, every scheme, every action is practical. If the story played out in the real world, the characters would behave exactly the way they did in the story. The balancing of grey shades of being a human is efficiently captured, be it in the protagonists- Ceda, Emre, Davud and others or in the antagonists- Meryam, the younger gods or even in supporting characters like Juvaan, Basilio, Nayyan, etc.

Which character the reader will relate to depends on the reader’s own preference. I, personally, find myself inclining towards Ramahad’s diplomacy and Meryam’s passion (though misplaced, her determination is iron clad).

As the book progresses one can’t help but notice the elements of the series that once stood as a symbol of power are slowly crumbling to dust. As the story has finally shifted to an alternative plot line, the demands of the old storyline die away, while new and more complex elements take their place. The name of the series is, “Song of the Shattered Sands”, meaning nothing remains as it is. Everything slips away like sand between fingers.

The details continue to awe at every step- the intricately laid out blood rituals, the magically vivid description that personify the desert, the minutely laid out clues and details in the history. Every page speaks of the work that went into writing it.

We finally have the back story that began the entire adventure of Sharakhai- Ahya’s. It comes in bits and pieces and is not clear even until the end but it does the job of clearing a narrative just enough that the reader understands the role Ahya played while alive and continues to play while dead.

Meryam might be the villain, but she is a badass through and through, even in her lowest moments. Meryam’s story ends poetically. Her fall from grace and power and her delusions when laid bare shows frailty underneath. The eventual downfall does not come with death, it comes with realisation that in the grand scheme of things individual ambitions are inconsequential. Never ever have I enjoyed reading the end of a character as much as I did Meryam’s. Every bit deserving of the narrative that was spun around her.

If I had to rate the book- my first preference will be the intricate web of politics of the Shanghazi desert. It goes to show that  the author definitely knows what he is doing.

The story is action-packed, especially towards the end so much so that one doesn’t know if it’s the climax or there is still more to come. This increases the expectation of a grand ending.

The last few chapters are a masterpiece. Throughout the book, the pace is steady and then fast and then steady again but as the end approaches, everything goes into a slow motion, like the climax of a suspense packed movie. Before you know it, you are turning page after page and still, the end just teases the corner of your excitement.

The conclusion itself is  poetic and perfect. Needless to say, the heroes win, pretty obviously but it was the way the events unfolded that made the simple ending grand. The story  does not end with grandeur , it ends with a gesture.

Once the final page is closed and the series ends, a reminiscence of all that has passed in the past 5 books comes into the picture. Even in the end, there’s a huge surprise, just waiting to unveil . Even as the story ends, it does so with the same favour it began.

If I am to summarize- at no point during the entire series did the narrative shift because there was no continuation, it was a layered tale from the start and as the layers peeled away the narrative just made more and more sense. ‘The Song of Shattered Sands’ is a tale written and narrated for grandeur. The entire story revolves more around the narrative and less around the characters which makes it a rich and engaging experience. The readers won’t be attached to the characters. They’ll be attached to the grand tale of Sharakhai.

‘A Desert Torn Asunder’ is a magical experience, both virtually and intellectually. The grand conclusion to the epic tale of Sharakhai is perfect in every way.  Scintillating, triumphant and rich, the series is an impressive experience like no other. Epic fantasy at its zenith, the conclusion does justice to the Grand tale of the Great Sharakhai.

I am hoping it doesn’t end here. I am hoping here for novellas about Ihsan and Ransaneh, maybe about younger gods and their future. Even though the series has ended, there’s still a lot more that can be said, even though it is not required.

LitGleam Rating 5/5

Quote 1- Who do you think supported the kings all those years? Sharakhai’s people ignored the cruelties so long as they kept getting rich. They enabled and upheld the kings’ cruel decisions at every step.

Quote 2- This is a war of ideas. Those ideas will not be sniffed out by the edge of a blade or on the front of an arrow.

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