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http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2...Earlier this week I criticized Brandon Sandersons new novelВ Alloy of Law for being shallow. В Bradley Beaulieus debut,В The Winds of Khalakovo,В is the polar opposite. В Where Sanderson wrote something light and breakneck, Beaulieu has offered a deep and deliberate novel. В Its also the closest thing to Russian literature Ive come across in fantasy, including novels written by Russians. В Having read my fair share ofВ DostoevskyВ and Tolstoy, I wasnt sure that I needed that particular style in my genre reading. В It turns out that not only was I happy to revisit that somewhat masochistic style, its something I want to see a lot more.The story centers around Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovos eyrie stands at the trade crossroads of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya. В The protagonist, Nikandar, Prince of Khalakovo (although not the heir), is set to marry the daughter of a rival Duchy. В Of course, hes not in love with her, instead he showers his affections on Rehada, an indigenous Aramahn whore.Amid this tangled web of love, a conspiracy begins to brew with other Duchies vying for power, and a fringe Aramahn group known as Maharraht who would see the entire system upended. В To a modern reader these dynamics will beВ reminiscentВ of the United States involvement in the Middle East. В Impossible loves and a rejection of western ideas, I say? В How Russian, you might respond.WindsВ is just that. В The world, characters, andВ plot lines all maintain a very Eastern European texture that call to mind the Middle East, Crimea, Poland, and yes, Russia. В So much so that Nikandar dances the preesyadka and wears a drooping mustache while the Aramahn wear layered robes and live a life of nomadic self-improvement. В Driving the point home are Russian words interspersed throughout the novel likeВ da,В nyet, andВ dosvedanya, aВ habit I admit to finding somewhat annoying (Ari Marmells intelligent discussion on the subject).To anyone whos read some Golden Age Russian literature, the themes in Winds will be familiar, especially suffering as a means of redemption. В Rehada, in particular, although not exclusively, is subjected to this device. В She also falls into the tradition outlined by Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky who wrote,В Russian literature has a bad tradition. [Its] devoted to the description of unsuccessful love affairs. В Where the suffering love affair exists on the surface of the narrative, the undercurrents of rebellion against western (new?) ideas are more subtle and probably more indicative of a RussianВ nascence.Beaulieus world casts the Duchies as an imperialist culture whove conquered the archipelagos and subjugated the nomadic Aramahn people (Tartars?). В Known as the Landed, the Duchies are at odds with theВ MaharrahtВ who reject the way of life forced on them and would sooner see it all end. В It would be somewhat misleading to call the Landed western, but the sentiments are the same as in Russian lit. В The rejection of the new and outside, in favor of the old and insular. В В In Crime and Punishment, Doystyevsky usesВ Raskolnikov and his tragedy to call for theВ return of Russianism by rediscovering religion and national pride. В So too does Beaulieu with theВ Maharraht, although his conclusions may differ from those literary forefathers.Themes and symbolism are great, but the damn thing has to read well too, right? В And for the most part, Winds is just as successful in that regard. В Beaulieu draws convincing, layered characters that fight for themselves and their loved ones far more often than an ideal. В In short, theyre real. В His prose is more than capable, and his dialogue has aВ poignancyВ that fits the thematic tones perfectly.Unfortunately, there are times when Beaulieu lacks clarity in both his description of action sequences and his explanation of world mechanics. В Winds takes the (now) popular approach of worldbuilding by inference, most popularized by Steven Eriksons Malazan Book of the Fallen. В Im a fan of the approach (generally), but oftentimes it forced to me flip back to see if I missed some detail. В This lack of surety is most often reflected in his magic systems (notice, the plural) that never seem to bridge the gap between cause and effect.Likewise, many of the novels action sequences take place on airships moving in three dimensions relative to one another and stationary objects beneath them. В The end result is usually confusion about whos where and whats going on. В Perhaps the best example of this is in the second chapter where I had to read a scene three times before grasping what was happening. В I was so frustrated by it that I put Winds down to read the aforementioned Alloy of Law. В Further compounding these moments of confusion is the novels inconsistent pacing with peaks and valleys that likely contribute to its Russianness (come on, War and Peace is a slog).In the moment, each of these flaws seems dooming. В On the whole, amid such dynamic characters and meaty themes they fade into the background, taking little away from the experience. В As a debut author Bradley Beaulieu is suffering growing pains in bringing new (old) literary traditions to genre fiction. В Ive glossed over a lot of the intricate plotting in favor of discussing the bigger picture, but I can vouch thatВ The Winds of KhalakovoВ is high fantasy full of magic, swashbuckling, and political intrigue. В I applaud what hes done hereВ and cant wait to see whats next.It should also be noted that Beaulieus publisher, Night Shade Books, has made a concerted effort to bring new voices to the forefront. В I wonder how many other presses would take a chance on this novel. В Sure, its epic fantasy, but its also unfamiliar. В So for that, thumbs up to the Night Shade team.The Straights of Galahesh, book two in The Lays of Anuskaya, is due out April of 2012. В You can find В Beaulieu on his websiteВ or on Twitter.

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