Cover Image: A Desert Torn Asunder

A Desert Torn Asunder

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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, 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. 

As 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.

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 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.
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5 / 5 ✪

‘ Where can we go when all is lost? ‘

The reign of the Kings has been interrupted, but not all is lost. Though Queen Alansal of Mirea now sits atop the Tauriyat, two of the original Twelve Kings still draw breath in the desert. And both Husamettín and Ihsan remain with the Royal Fleet, committed to retaking the city. 

Queen Meryam’s blood magic has been burned from her, yet her ambition still burns strong. Armed with the body of Goezhen and the blessing of the younger gods, she seeks out the Hollow—where the elder god Ashael was bound eons prior. But will waking him deliver her all the power she’s ever desired, or will the god’s wrath fall upon the desert instead?

Elsewhere in the desert Çeda and Emre prepare to confront the Alliance about Hamid’s betrayal, but to their horror the tribes have agreed to unite under his banner. Even as the pair arrive, the Alliance readies to sail to Sharakai—to raze the city to the ground.

Even as the Kings, Mirea, Malasan, the Tribes, and Ashael all converge on Sharakai—the gateway beneath the city continues to expand. Though Davud and his allies are attempting to close it, so far they’ve had no luck. And soon nothing will stop the younger gods from stepping through into Further Fields, leaving the mortals to pick up the remnants of they shattered world.

‘ When at last the fields do wither,
When the stricken fade;
The Gods shall pass beyond the veil,
And the land shall be remade. ‘

Well, it’s been a long and immersive voyage—one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed! With the sixth and last book in the Song of the Shattered Sands—A Desert Torn Asunder—so many threads that’ve been built up over six books (and more novellas) set to converge for the first and final time. As with all grand fantasy adventures, so much COULD happen that it’s next to impossible to know just what will. Going into this I had a general idea—one that proved to be somewhat correct, albeit pathetically limited in imagination. There was just so much going on here! And when it all came together… it was amazing.

This was the perfect ending.

Okay, okay, it wasn’t absolutely PERFECT, but after six books and so many hours of growth and imagination, a few minor issues along the way couldn’t derail it. In fact, there were so many touches and details that I loved, to be honest I don’t remember what any of my gripes were.

As with the previous books, I would rave about the characters, the world-building, the intricacies of the plot, the attention to detail, and more, but instead let’s focus on the gods. Up to this point we’ve known the gods (the younger ones, that is) are the ones pulling the strings. They’ve been behind the scenes until now, but lately have begun to assume center stage. And as such, there are so many details about them in A Desert Torn Asunder that I loved. Let’s begin with Ashael. He was so much more than what I’d expected. So different—and yet not. The elder gods are all more than I’d’ve guessed—detailed yet mysterious. 

This holds true for the younger ones as well. They’re still mysterious, albeit less so, with their deeds now at the forefront of the story and their intentions well known. There are so many things I could talk about, but I want to focus on one little (non-spoilery) thing. The way they come and go, each in their own way. Bakhi slashes a line in the air, which he departs through like a portal. Rhia arrives in a flash of moonlight, and Tulathan departs the same way, except hers is done by sunlight. Thaash turns to stone which crumbles to dust as he departs—dust that is scattered by the desert winds. Nalamae appears and vanishes in a swirl of sand. Each of these touches I found incredibly imaginative and had no problem picturing them. As with so much in this series, my imagination hardly knew where to stop; the story ran wild through my mind.


I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the Shattered Sands, especially this conclusion to the series. A Desert Torn Asunder is the end this series deserves. So many threads come together that literally anything could happen and frequently does as the desert people all attempt to save their home. Save it, or rule it. If you haven’t started this series yet (perhaps waiting for all the books to be released), well, now’s the time. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. But I can only hope. Whether this is the final time Bradley Beaulieu will revisit Sharakai I cannot say—though there’s still room for more in this world. As for myself I know that I’ll return to the series time and again.
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Here we are, the sixth and final book of The Song of the Shattered Sands. A Desert Torn Asunder brings to a close the quest of Çeda to kill the Kings of Sharakhai, perhaps in unexpected ways. But the story has grown grander and more epic in scope since that first book, and there are other players on the field who deserve closure too. Bradley P. Beaulieu manages the not inconsiderable feat of creating a satisfying ending to an epic fantasy series, certainly more satisfying than some I have read over the past few years (Sara Douglass, looking at you). If you want my praise in one blurb, it is this: this book does not rush you towards its conclusion, nor does it grant any character an easy end to their struggle.

Thanks to NetGalley and Gollancz for this free e-ARC.

This review is going to be, in many ways, a review of the series as a whole now that we have closure. That being said, I’m going to keep it spoiler-free for A Desert Torn Asunder, so you should be fine as long as you don’t mind spoilers for the previous 5 books.

Look, I mentioned this in a previous review, and I’m sure I am not the only one to make this comparison, but this series is way better than A Song of Ice and Fire ever was. I’m using George R.R. Martin’s unfinished epic opus as a touchstone because of its cultural relevance—this series could easily be adapted by HBO or any number of competing studios to the same fidelity that they produced Game of Thrones but with the added benefit of, you know, a good ending. Oh, and tons less misogyny and gratuitous nudity and sexual violence! Not only is Beaulieu a better writer but he has delivered in a few years what Martin has failed to do in a couple of decades. Yes, I know that every writer is different, and I’m not here to dismiss any difficulties Martin might have with his writing—I’m just pointing out a simple fact.

I’m looking at this series from the position of someone who has been a fan of epic fantasy for almost her whole life. When I was young, my first genre love was mystery. I went from Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew up to the big leagues of Agatha Christie. Then in grades 6 and 7, I discovered science fiction and fantasy. Dune and LOTR were great, but it was The Belgariad by David (and Leigh) Eddings that truly stoked the fantasy fire in this reader’s heart. I devoured that series and its sequel series, and from there I tore through my library’s epic fantasy books. I remember reading the first three Song of Ice and Fire novels in Grade 7—waaaay too young for that content, oops—and then waiting, patiently, for the next book. Still waiting for book 6 at 31, George….

So, I’ve not just read epic fantasy; I have steeped myself in it. Yet as I grew older and learned more about the world around me, I began to understand how a lot of epic fantasy reflects our problematic worldviews. I saw how it is often mired in European ideas of feudalism and patriarchy and how the few attempts to subvert that are often clumsy or problematic in other senses. So it has been with great excitement that I have watched so many authors, particularly women of colour, reimagine what epic fantasy can be (N.K. Jemisin, I’m looking at you!). Anybody who writes today that epic fantasy is too whitewashed, too Eurocentric, etc., just isn’t paying attention to the brilliant renaissance of fresh voices and worlds being created right now.

Beaulieu’s series is a part of that. What I admire most is the way he marries the old and the new. There are tired tropes in this book: elder gods versus younger gods—including a literal deus ex machina at the end of A Desert Torn Asunder—and enchanted blades and ancient curses, etc. But Beaulieu infuses these ideas with different settings—in the middle of a desert—and diverse characters, most of whom are neither good nor evil but simply fallible humans on power trips. To that last point, I was very impressed with the characterization of Ihsan in this book. We’ve come a long way from the first book, when the Kings seemed like these remote and terrible figures, to now, where they are as beaten and broken as any of the other mortals trapped in this gods-caused struggle.

Indeed, in addition to the overall quality of this series as it pertains to the epic fantasy subgenre, I just want to praise the incredible characterization in this book. So many of the main characters are three-dimensional. I have been angry with pretty much all of them—Çeda included—at one point or another. Meryam’s evolution from possible hero to villain, and the way Beaulieu has unpacked the childhood traumas that her mind has fled into to rationalize her actions, has been so fascinating. I appreciate how, in this final book, each of the remaining main characters receives some kind of resolution to their story. Sometimes it is entirely what you would expect; other times, it’s different because of how their story has changed over these six books.

Do I agree with all of it? No. This series is far from perfect. As I have previously mentioned, I would like to see more explicit LGBTQ+ representation—Çeda’s dalliance with Sumeya is further minimized in this book in a way I didn’t appreciate, and the only other major gay characters I can think of were antagonists. So in that respect Beaulieu could have done better. Similarly, this series suffers from what any epic series does: way too many characters, way too many subplots, and the challenge of bringing it all together at the end. As I have already said, I think Beaulieu succeeds at this challenge. However, there’s definitely elements to A Desert Torn Asunder that feel very narratively convenient. Davud’s entire storyline is one of them, in my opinion, along with the deus ex machina I mentioned above. These are all “your mileage may vary” type things, of course, and someone else might have fewer nitpicks while another reader might think I’m going too easy on the series.

But I’m not here to put any fantasy series on a pedestal. I’m here, rather, for more diverse fantasy in the sense that we are seeing a lot of different and fresh takes on what it means to be “epic.” I have seen so much of that lately; here’s a short list if you want it: The Jasmine Throne, Ashes of the Sun, Blades of the Old Empire, the aforementioned N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I’m sure there are listicles and other recommendations out there if you need more of this in your life—I know I do.
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And so commences my final review of The Song of the Shattered Sands. Here we are again with another gigantic book by Bradley P. Beaulieu - filled with wonderful prose and thrilling worldbuilding set in an original Arabian-inspired world. This is my final plea for you to go check it out. But, now there is an added incentive: the series is finished and the ending was great. There is now a full six-book epic fantasy in its full glory awaiting you. What is stopping you from picking up this great set of books? Go get them. There are few series out there that will give you as much bang for your buck as The Song of the Shattered Sands.

There isn’t actually a lot I can say about book six, A Desert Torn Asunder, that isn’t spoilers. All the plot lines built up in the last five books come together, they all have an excellent payoff, and the ending is sufficiently epic for a series of this magnitude. It's mostly all good news. The only real issue I have with book six is that Beaulieu did such a good job putting all the balls in motion that there doesn’t feel like there is a lot of agency among the characters in the last book. All the plans have been made, all the choices have been chosen, and now you will see where the pieces land in this massive battle for control of the desert world. But, the ending is still surprising, delightful, and has some great messaging.

As for my review of the series as a whole: A, great work. Bradley P. Beaulieu clearly loves his world and series. He has enormous passion in every single page, and there are a lot of pages. He also has a mind for sharp detail and is constantly reinventing the wheel. Each of the six books in the series feels distinctly different, with a unique narrative style, yet they all have so many clear-through lines that bind them together. The characters have wonderful growth, there is a wide variety of personalities among the POVs, and almost every character is easy to empathize with. Its only real shortcoming is that the narrative can occasionally be slow and dense. Certain plotlines are more exciting than others and a few bits of the story can drag. All of this is worth it though in pursuit of the rest of the story.

A major theme of the book is the protagonist’s (Ceda) relationship with her mother. It was a really nice relationship to explore and I wish there were more like it in the fantasy genre. As I mentioned in my Father’s Day piece recently, it’s important that we get more fantasy stories with a focus on parent-child relationships as it's a space that hasn’t fully been explored in the fantasy medium (though there is always good old fiction). The worldbuilding is phenomenal, ending the series with an extremely well fleshed-out set of countries, multiple deep original magic systems, and nuanced culture that varies by region and class. This is a world that is easy to slip into and hard to leave.

In sum, A Desert Torn Asunder rounds off an excellent series and one of the hidden fantasy gems of this generation of writers. The Song of the Shattered Sands continuously delivers a high-quality story from start to finish and never drops the ball. You should finally check it out now that it's finished if you haven’t done so already.

Rating: A Desert Torn Asunder - 8.0/10
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So disappointing to read this ending. Too many threads and plot lines made it difficult to follow and feel invested in this final instalment. Definitely underwhelming as this was one of my most anticipated reads if the year.
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I received an advanced read copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It is always a bitter sweet feeling when coming to the concluding volume of a six book epic. You feel elated at finishing but sad at the same time saying goodbye to such wonderful characters which I have grown to love over the years. The desert is literally torn in the destruction of war and the overall politics of the gods. How does Bradley P. Beaulieu stick the landing? Quite well and I only wish he revisits this world once again. This will be a spoiler free review, but I will be touching upon some events in the previous books.

Ceda and Emre seem to be fighting against the tides of a civil war among the desert tribes. The traitor Hamid has united the thirteen tribes and plans to attack Sharakhai with their full military forces. Ceda has no choice but to demand a meeting of the tribe leaders and ask for a trial to determine the guilt of Hamid and Ceda knows she needs to find overwhelming proof of Hamid’s deception. She may need to seek the painful memories of her past and that of the acacia tree for guidance. The blood mage Davud is investigating the slow death of the twisted trees and how the asirim are sacrificing themselves to keep the last few trees alive. With the gateway between worlds opening more and more by the day, Davud will need to seek the guidance of the blood mage council and find a solution to this endeavor. Meryam, the fallen queen of Qaimir, plans to seek vengeance of the kings and desert tribes by raising a dead god. She soon learns the location of the burial site and will pay a great sacrifice to raise him from the dead.

The first half of the novel is buildup for the action packed conclusion to the series, but I enjoyed the earlier chapters tremendously. The author introduces an interesting concept in this novel called water dancing. Water dancers are basically seers who use water in order to predict the future but they need to do it in a group. This will have massive implications for the rest of the book and I love it when authors use this writing technique especially when the prediction turns out to be different. The only shame is that I wish we were introduced to these seers in a earlier volume. The action really picks up in the second half with a satisfyingly but somewhat predictable ending. Some of the conclusions for our characters will not make every reader happy especially the fate of one of the kings. These are my only tidbits with the story as it was a nonstop ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

This underrated epic is and will continue to be among my favorite fantasy series in the SFF genre. It provides something different, engaging, shocking, and all around kickass action the whole way through. There is nothing more I can say that will prepare you to jump into the streets of Sharakhai except WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!

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What a gripping and satisfying to a very great series.

If you like reading about burning sands. raising gods, and fantastical worlds, this is for you. The world building throughout this entire trilogy is some of the best I've read from. It mirrors that of Sanderson. 

This is a must read.
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The final this series deserve. Can't say  a lot that far in the series not to spoiled anything for newcomers, but my God!!  don't understand why Beaulieu isn't that much talk about online. This is one of the best fantasy series of the last years. it has a fun and complex story, amazing and memorable characters and the perfect level of epicness to made you feel like you're part of something great. I highly recommend this book, but of course start with the first book in the series and after that, anyway, you won't be able nor wanted to stop!!
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