Bradley P. Beaulieu returns to his desert setting in A Veil of Spears (2018), the third novel of THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED LANDS series. Book one for me remains the strongest, but both the sequel and now A Veil of Spears are worthy follow ups that both deepen and broaden the story and the characters. I’m going to assume you’ve read the first two novels (you really need to have done so), so fair warning that there will be spoilers for those two books ahead.
The book picks up shortly after the last with Çeda continuing her attempt to bring down the Kings of Sharakhai, which were twelve in book one (named, um, The Twelve Kings in Sharakhai) but thanks to Çeda’s efforts are now fewer in number. The rebels (who call themselves the Moonless Host or the Thirteenth Tribe) are being routed out of the city by the remaining kings and so have plans to evacuate and gather out in the desert to continue the fight. Also in the desert is King Onur, who has turned against his brethren openly; he is gathering tribes to his banners through negotiation or conquest, forming an army to take on whoever gets in his way: his fellow Kings or the Moonless Host.
Meanwhile, back in the city of Sharakhai, the kings, even as they take on the rebels, are also fighting amongst themselves. Alliances are forming and reforming, there are factions within factions, and a mysterious new player has entered the game. Also in the mix are Queen Meryam and Ramahd of Qaimir, the bloodmage Hamzakiir, Brama (possessed by a demon), and Çeda’s friends Davud and Emre.
Plotting is complex, with wheels within wheels thanks to those uncertain and shifting alliances, the separate internal politics of the Kings and the desert tribes, the external politics involving Qaimir’s relationship to Sharakhai and a possibly imminent invasion by a bordering nation, and Çeda’s tension-filled relationship with her grandfather (head of the Moonless Host). The underlying mythology remains fascinating and we get some tantalizing sights of the gods’ actions both in the deep past and in the present.
As with the prior books, Beaulieu employs multiple POVs, including Çeda, Davud, Emre, Ramah, and Brama, amongst a few others. Unlike the first two books though, A Veil of Spears stays in the present time, without the multiple flashbacks we’ve seen before. Those flashbacks created some pacing issues in those first few books, but here, probably due to the more linear structure, A Veil of Spears moves along quickly and smoothly, even if it does feel a bit overlong. And to be fair, some of that sense I had that the book was spinning its wheels a little might be due to expectations, since I had thought Beaulieu was wrapping the story up here, and it turns out it’s been picked up for another three books.
A few times I thought the plotting was marred slightly by a reliance on coincidence or the age-old technique of someone overhearing an important conversation. And while I like a stimulating, complicated plot, I did wonder once or twice if that particular little bit of complexity was necessary or if it perhaps was a little forced. But these were minor issue in the story as a whole.
Characterization remains a strong suit of the series. Çeda is an excellent main character, driving by multiple motivations, flawed, surrounded by realistically depicted relationships that push and pull at her. That last bit also holds true for both Davud and Ramahd, as well as, to a lesser extent Brama. Emre is somewhat more stock, but his storyline adds a somewhat welcome bit of relatively straightforward bravura action. As for the kings, it would have been easy to just pull them right out of central villain casting, but more than a few of them have their own shadings, and I’ve always enjoyed how the reader never feels quite on solid ground with all of them, something that continues here.
Finally, the series themes continue to resonate as the book further explores issues of guilt and shame, responsibility, exploitation, the way the past haunts the present, and the power (as well as the use and misuse) of story.
A Veil of Spears continues the series’ strong point in terms of plot, character, and theme, and improving with regard to pace. I admit, I would have liked to have gotten to this point in the series a few hundred pages sooner; I think all three books could have done with some trimming. That said, I’m glad to hear we’ve got three more books in the series to look forward to.