When I picked up Bradley Beaulieu’s The Straits of Galahesh, the second book in his THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA series, it had been a while since I’d read the first book, The Winds of Khalakovo, so I was worried that I had forgotten many of the story details. But Beaulieu, in his infinite wisdom, put a summary of the first book where a prologue would be. Not only did this refresh my forgetful brain, but it kept Beaulieu from having to drop in constant “reminders” throughout the book. There were no refresher paragraphs sprinkled throughout the prose, which was absolutely wonderful. If you just came from reading The Winds of Khalakovo, you could skip that section. If it’s been a while, reading the first section will bring you up to speed and help you remember everything you might have forgotten.
The Straits of Galahesh takes off five years after The Winds of Khalakovo ended. Beaulieu’s confidence has grown between book one and book two and it’s obvious in his world building. Whereas many aspects of the world building and description seemed slightly tentative before, now Beaulieu explores it all with confidence and his descriptive prose brings his world to life. Other islands, cities, cultures and traditions are explored, making The Straits of Galahesh feel more epic than The Winds of Khalakovo.
Along with the expanded world are also some expanded conflicts. Beaulieu adds some political tensions between the islands and the Empire. The Straits of Galahesh follows three main characters — Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim. While the trio stuck together for much of the first book, duty has thrust them apart in this second installment and the three perspectives in three different areas helps readers understand multiple conflicts, side plots, perspectives and plot threads that Beaulieu weaves through the story. It also helps the reader get a sense of the broader scope of Beaulieu’s world.
Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim all grow along with the world. They are each, for the most part, doing their own thing, but the five year gap between books has required them to grow and mature the way a normal person would. Beauleu handles their growth and development well, and keeps it going throughout the story. Some storylines might be more interesting than others for readers, but that’s going to be more of a personal preference thing than anything else. By and large, Beaulieu has succeeded in making his characters more engaging for readers in The Straits of Galahesh.
The Straits of Galahesh takes some time to build its momentum and engage readers, probably because the perspective switches every few chapters. Thus, the first half of the novel feels rather disjointed, more like short stories focusing on three different people rather than one uniform novel. But since these three main perspectives are in different areas doing different things, the action and plot has an interesting multi-hued feel to it. Beaulieu pulls all of it together in the second half and exercises his perspectives for maximum impact. The story moves quickly and is full of action and vivid adventure that will be hard to pull yourself away from. Then Beaulieu nicely ties it off in a powerful ending.
In some respects The Straits of Galahesh suffers from Second Book Syndrome (SBS). Some aspects of the plot lacked the natural flow of much of the rest of the novel and felt like they were just set up for the third book. Occasionally Beaulieu tells and doesn’t show readers what is happening. These two factors working together can make readers feel like this second book is a bridge to hold books one and three together, rather than a book that can stand on its own merit. But this is mostly the case in the first half of the novel. During the second half, when things really get going, there’s plenty of action and suspense and you’ll forget about SBS.
One thing that is mentioned over and over again in reviews of this series is how much of it is influenced by Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. This influence spreads into the names of characters, places and even the magic system. Beaulieu’s creativity should be noted here, as his magic system is rather complex. However, the magic system and the world both expand in this second book, and along with it, readers are given even more foreign names that often sound similar. This can be confusing, especially since many of these words are dropped into the book in a way that makes readers figure out what it means as they go. This might not be a big deal to many readers, and it’s something I expected when I started the book, but it can be mildly frustrating at times. In some ways this reminds me of the great epic fantasy authors like Erikson or Martin, who often throw readers into the deep end of the pool and let them figure out how to swim on their own. While some readers don’t mind that sort of thing, some do. It’s a personal preference issue more than a problem with writing or execution.
The Straits of Galahesh is a strong second book. Readers who enjoyed The Winds of Khalakovo will be sure to love this one. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong set up for what looks to be a promising finale to a unique, refreshing, and often surprising trilogy. Beaulieu’s expansion of his world, characters, conflicts and magic system pays off in a big way. This is a book full of surprising twists and turns resulting in a high impact novel that will have you hanging on for dear life by the time it’s ended. Regardless of whatever else I say, in the end I must tip my hat to Beaulieu’s unique vision and his nearly flawless execution of it. This is one series to pay attention to.