Review: The Winds of Khalakovo
When it comes down to it, I picked up this book based on the cover. I do that more frequently than one would think, and of course the results vary. Bradley P. Beaulieu’s debut novel, THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, has a lot going for it. But it also has some factors that, for me, hurt the overall experience.
What is KHALAKOVO about? The story mostly revolves around Prince Nikandr Khalakovo as he prepares for an arranged marriage, attempts to overcome a terminal wasting disease, and also endeavors to solve a series of mysteries that are causing ever increasing hostilities with other factions. And then readers are introduced to an autistic child, Nasim, who could potentially solve everything, or destroy everything instead.
One of the main elements of this novel that really had me nodding in appreciation was the setting. The use of an archipelago for the country/kingdom felt fresh. Beaulieu focuses on one main area, while still giving subtle nods to a much larger world. The use of airships in this novel was very well done, and felt completely natural. Mainly though, it was the inclusion of two distinct cultures that was fantastic. The character Nikandr Khalakovo and his betrothed Atiana Vostroma are very Russian, from traditions to language, to dress. It comes across smoothly and effortlessly. The other main culture is the nomadic Aramahn who feel extremely Middle Eastern influenced—perhaps Turkish or Persian. What is impressive is how these two wildly different cultures can coexist in this novel and feel natural together.
This is a very context-heavy novel. Not only are readers showered with Russian terms, but readers also get a huge does of the terminology used by the Aramahn. On the surface it can seem daunting and confusing, but to me it added a richness to the world. Would a glossary have helped? I imagine to some people it would. However in this case it added to the discovery of the reading.
Opinions on characters are just that; opinions. To me Nikandr was the most enjoyable to read. He acts believably without being predictable. Atiana had a few moments where I wondered why she was even participating in certain scenes, but on the whole she was pretty solid. Rehada—an Aramahn who is Nikandr’s lover—had moments of awesomeness, but also moments that were polar-opposite. It gave her a wishy-washy feel that detracted from her sections. Nasim, initially, was mediocre, but grew on me as I saw his internal pain.
I’ve said all sorts of good here, and you are likely thinking, “Geez, this book sounds freaking amazing!” There is one glaring issue that kept this novel from being a truly incredible debut. Clarity. When we say a novel has clarity issues, it can mean a wide variety of things. In KHALAKOVO, it was a little like trying to see without your glasses on. Everything was a bit blurry and unfocused. Transitions from one scene to the next are rough. Additionally characters just seem to pop in and out with no warning. There was a scene part-way through the novel where Rehada is being attacked. She is saved by another character, and a fight ensues. Everything was fine until in the middle of a sentence another completely different character is suddenly there in the melee. There’s no warning, the character just appears out of thin air. This happens frequently in this novel, and the result is that the flow and pacing of that scene screeches to a halt. There are also several times during action scenes where I got lost. Who is shooting? Who is being shot? What is the reasoning behind the emotions the characters are feeling? What just happened? I found I was constantly re-reading sections to see if I was just missing something. In some cases that held true, and I missed a one-line reference that changes the whole dynamic of the scene. But most other times it is just due to lacking in clarity and concrete descriptions.
It bothered me. A lot.
The bright side here is Beaulieu can fix this right away going into his next novel. The cultures are fine. The characters are fine. The magic is fine. The setting is fine. See where I’m going? Pretty much everything is doing alright. It’s making sure the reader can easily read and understand all those great pieces of the novel that is important.
I like that Beaulieu didn’t take the easy road with THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO. He could have easily fallen into using bad clichés and predictable plotting, but he didn’t. Remember, I like authors who take risks and try to be fresh. Were there problems in this novel? Yes. And I expect them to be largely cleared up in the second novel. Beaulieu has a ton of potential, and THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, overall, is a good read.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: There was a little bit of offensive language, but mostly it just seemed forced and out of place.
Violence: Most of the action scenes in the novel lack clarity which robs them of how awesome they could have been. There was violence, and it was brutal at times, but I just wasn’t able to enjoy it.
Sex: A couple scenes that cut away before getting tooooo graphic.
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