The Art of the Subtle Epic

The Flames of Shadam Khoreh (The Lays of Anuskaya) - Bradley Beaulieu

I get bored with a story that becomes predictable, as I am sure most readers do. Also, like most readers, I enjoy twists and turns, a little of the unexpected. When I started reading The Flames of Shadam Khoreh I was not to sure what to expect. Mr. Beaulieu has a talent for not giving away his story, he avoids predictability in the most subtlest of fashions. So, I spent my time reading the last book of his trilogy, The Lays of Anuskaya, never sure what was going to happen, but sure of the fact that I was going to enjoy it.


The novel picks up right where the second book, The Straits of Galahesh, left off. Nikandr, Atiana, and Nasim are all racing to save the world from widening rifts between the world of the physical and the world of spirits, but once again along their separate paths. Most fantasy enjoys the classic fellowship paradigm, a group of multi-talented individuals coming together for common cause and all that. Beaulieu throws this right out the window. While his heros work together for a common cause they do so alone. They will be able to stand on their own or not at all. They become successful in their isolation more out of their intellectual abilities then their physical abilities, another aspect I enjoyed over the whole of the trilogy. 


The individual struggles of each character are truly engrossing. Nikandr struggles  in his relations with his own people, for many still view him as a traitor and bent on completing an unimportant and crazy task. He is concerned over his difficulties in communing with the air spirits, or havahezhan, he had a previous connection to, and of course stopping the end of the world. Atiana’s struggles revolve around her talents in taking the dark, which she finds she can do multiple and disturbing ways. She also has her direct battle of wills with the villainess Sariya which is characterized by mind tricks and the gathering of Matri, the women of the Islands who can take the dark. Nasim, the person the story spins around most, has to cope with the reality of the world, meaning the truth of the original sundering which created the rifts. This truth about the rifts help him realize Sariya’s true intentions a head of the others. He also understands the sacrifice that must be made to stop her. 


There is also a great list of supporting cast that brings the story to life. Styophan, for example, and his time spent among the Hael, a people who have been at war with the Empire of Yrstania for centuries. He goes to them at the orders of Nikandr’s brother to make them allies of Anuskaya in their war against the Empire only to find the Empire is already there wooing them. His story becomes a unpredictable blood soaked trek through the back door of the Empire itself. To the reader, and to Styophan myself, it seems that his journey is a side quest that runs along the main one under taken by Nikandr and company. However, Styophan is something a linchpin to the overall success of the heros. Just one of many twists. 


This last installment I could sum up as a subtle epic tale. What I mean by this is that, while there is tension, and conflict, it is not dealt with by sheer force, by the heros or the author. The means by which the heros meet their challenges is by guile and intelligence, compassion and forethought. Mr. Beaulieu keeps the vulnerability of his characters established in the previous novels intact, as if to remind the readers that regardless of what happens to a person to make them more capable and formidable, they are still human and subject to all human faults. Indeed, the biggest twist to the whole story is set in their inability to discern the truth in a timely manner.


Mr. Beaulieu, as an author, applies the same attributes to his story crafting. Never is the reader spoken down to, or bludgeoned with details. The tale winds around the land and it’s people in a believable but unfamiliar way. I have used the word subtle throughout this review and for good reason. Plot events and character development takes place almost quietly, and many times unexpected. Whether it is Nikandr, Atiana, Nasim, or Styophan, I was always surprised by how they handled a situation. I was always caught off guard by Mr. Beaulieu. As I stated in my review of The Straits of Galahesh, no character is granted protection from danger. So, I would be reading, getting wrapped up into the tale, fully expecting one thing to happen and then, quite out of nowhere, catastrophe. Subtle, like a assassin, before you know they are there.


I wanted to write a much longer review, but I feel that I could damage the experience of others if I did. I can say that I have come to respect Mr. Beaulieu’s work. He was able to leave me guessing as to the truth of the tale. His characters, while quiet and thoughtful, were real and multifaceted. Just before you think you have them figured out they surprise you. The story itself was the same, a surprise at every turn. What I thought was to be a important development in the story wasn’t, it was nothing but a distraction so that I wouldn’t notice the twist coming up in the next chapter. All in all I loved this rich world and wished only that there was more. I hope Mr. Beaulieu will revisit the Islands of Anuskaya in a future work, for there is much more to learn of his world and Mr. Beaulieu’s skills as a fantasy author.