Ceda fights in the pits of Sharakhai, scraping a living like so many in the city known as "the amber jewel of the desert". She, like most, pray for an end to the tyrannical and cruel rule of the city by it's immortal Kings. She has, until now never been in a position to do anything about it.
That all changes on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir, a night when all are forbidden from walking the streets. This is the night when the powerful, wretched creatures known as the Asirim roam the city. The Asirim are a neccessary evil, protectors of the Sharakhai Kings. Abroad when she shouldn't be, Ceda is stopped by one of the Asirim, one wearing a golden crown and wispering long forgotten words into her ear. Ceda has heard such words before in books left by her mother and within these tomes she finds previously hidden riddles. Unlocking these mysteries could be the key to understanding the asirim and the bargain the Kings made with the gods of the desert.
One of the things that first strikes you about this novel is the worldbuilding, the author describes a living, breathing city along with inhabitants that are so well drawn that you can almost touch them as they walk past and feel the sand blow through the streets. It's a unique settting with sand-skimming ships, magical oases and monsterous creatures. There is such a rich culture and complex structure that it's a wonder the book sails along as fast as it does.
Ceda makes a formidable protagonist. A young but seasoned pit fighter with a troubled past life and current double-life in and out of the pit, she is one of those people who naturally adapt to the situation around them — a survivor in other words. She is driven by her mothers untimely death at the hands of the Kings and yet she doesn't let this motivation blind her to the many dangersthe city and her need for vengance bring. The relationships she has with the various characters throughout the city is handled well, feeling entirely natural. Ceda is one of those few protagonists that make realistic, thoughtful decisions and there wasn't one point that made me think "hang on she woudn't do that" (something that is fairly rare).
As the book progresses much of the backstory is provided by flashbacks and however you feel about this type of information dump it has to be said that these breaks work very well. At no time did it feel forced and each flashback is placed perfectly to give some insight into the characters motivations along with depth to the story and world around it.
The quality of the writing is superb, vivid and lively and just full of energy. Completely accessible, it draws you in and pulls you along while masking the fact that what we have here is a highly ambitious, complex fantasy story. That story is engaging, deep and convoluted with an incredible sense of scale, driven by vibrant and colourful characters who make justifiable, believable choices. I have been impressed by this novel more than most I've read this year and it's just completely out of the blue, I really wasn't expecting to find such a gem.
Twelve Kings is a beautifully rich, absorbing novel, the beginning of a promising epic fantasy series.
Written on 3rd September 2015 by Ant.
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