A Desert Torn Asunder: Jump on in, the series is fine! (and finished)

A Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley P. Beaulieu science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley P. BeaulieuA Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley P. Beaulieu

If you’re like me, you’re always a bit wary of starting a new series that is obviously going to go on for some time. So much can go wrong: will the next book come out in my lifetime? Will the series go downhill at book three? Will the author actually finish it? So having just read A Desert Torn Asunder (2021), the conclusion to Bradley P. Beaulieu’s THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS, I’m happily adding it to my list of highly recommended DIRTI (Despite Its Required Time Investment) series. Hmm, maybe I should work on that acronym a bit more.

Beaulieu’s sixth book brings this excellent series to a proper close, offering up a number of exciting battle scenes, several one-on-one tense confrontations, and a realignment on scales ranging from the local (the desert and city of Sharakhai) to the cosmic. I’m not going to do the usual plot summary because 1) at this point there are so many threads and 2) it’d be impossible to give much plot without spoiling this story and prior books. Suffice to say all the plot lines are converging here with a host (literally) vying for control of Sharakhai and the surrounding desert: Ceda and Emre and their Thirteenth Tribe, the other desert tribes who are split on whom to follow — Ceda or Hamid; the Younger Gods, who need to pass through the city in order to enter the next world; the rulers of neighboring nations, some allied with Ceda and others hoping to take Sharakhai for their own; Meryam, former queen of one of those nations who will stop at nothing, including bringing back a long-buried horror, to regain power.

The plot is fast-paced, and as noted, contains more than its share of well-constructed, exciting fight scenes that don’t wear out their welcome due to taking different forms. While a few of the prior books had some (minor) pacing issues, that isn’t the case here; it’s a tightly constructed plot even as it shifts among multiple storyline/points-of-view. The story takes several surprising turns and if the plot has some deus ex machina in it, well, it’s not like we haven’t been set up for it throughout the past few books.

Song of Shattered Sands (4 book series) Kindle EditionAs has been the case throughout the series, Beaulieu balances the action scenes with more intimate, personal moments involving subplots such as the relationship between Ceda and her mother or between King Ihsan and his lover Nayyan. In fact, some of my favorite moments were the new parent (Ihsan and Nayyan have a baby girl) references peppered throughout, the sort of domestic detail a lot of authors would consider “not worthy” of inclusion.

Ihsan may even be my favorite character in the series, not so much in terms of admiration but in the distance his long arc has traveled, leading to a richly complex characterization. Though he is hardly alone in that, as characterization has been a strength throughout. I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoyed the way Beaulieu moved away from the single hero story focused on Ceda and allowed so many other characters to step on stage for more than the occasional fleeting scene. Ihsan, Nayyan, Davud, etc. have all played major roles in events with compelling stories in their own right and that continues to the very end, whether that end be bitter or sweet or both.

Bradley P. Beaulieu

Bradley P. Beaulieu

The desert setting also remains a strength, especially because Beaulieu has never presented the people living there as all the same — the all-too-frequently-seen monolithic view of people sharing a geography: the “desert people,” the “horse people,” etc. The people inhabiting the Great Desert are not only not politically unified, they have different customs, different styles, etc. Here, for instance, is a description of one of the meetings amongst them:

The style of dress, the colors, the patterns in the cloth, all varied widely. Some had jewelry around their necks and wrists. Others wore pins and brooches on their khalars, dresses, or turbans. Others had no jewelry at all, having chosen more staid garb. Most had tattoos on their faces and the sheer variety was impressive . . .

Plot, character, setting. And consistently strong prose. These are obviously the elements that make for a good series, but what makes THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS better than just “good” is the way plot and the character both broadened and deepened book to book, taking us to unexpected places in terms of story and into unexpected nooks and crannies in terms of personality. And now that you know the series is a) completed and b) well worth the journey, there’s no excuse not to start it now.

Published in July 2021. The final book in The Song of the Shattered Sands series closes the epic fantasy saga in a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action. The plans of the desert gods are coming to fruition. Meryam, the deposed queen of Qaimir, hopes to raise the buried elder god, Ashael, an event that would bring ruin to the desert. Çeda and Emre sail for their ancestral home to bring the traitor, Hamid, to justice. To their horror, they discover that the desert tribes have united under Hamid’s banner. Their plan? A holy crusade to annihilate Sharakhai, a thing long sought by many in the tribes. In Sharakhai, meanwhile, the blood mage, Davud, examines the strange gateway between worlds, hoping to find a way to close it. And King Ihsan hunts for Meryam, but always finds himself two steps behind. When Meryam raises Ashael, all know the end is near. Ashael means to journey to the land that was denied to him an age ago, no matter the cost to the desert. It now falls to Çeda and her unlikely assortment of allies to find a way to unite not only the desert tribes and the people of Sharakhai, but the city’s invaders as well. Even if they do, stopping Ashael will cost them dearly, perhaps more than all are willing to pay.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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