I’ll be frank. This novel is a complete and utter mess! It’s been a long time since got the opportunity to read such a train-wreck that isn’t self-published, but actually released by a serious publisher. I mean, I got the feeling this was an incomplete edition, an early draft or something like that. The version I read, a digital version, I borrowed from a friend and I have yet to ask him where the heck he got it! Because the ending made me think that this couldn’t – in a million years – be the final version. Here’s why:

The novel begins fine, at a slow pace. We’re introduced to some sympathetic characters and the author starts building the world right away. The people of the islands have windships, they know of several magic systems and the Duchy is inhabited by two interesting groups of people. So far so good. I had no problems with the beginning. I even liked the first three hundred or so pages.

But then… Oh my god. The second book is filled with narrow escapes, streltsi dying, spirits being summoned, windships crashing, Nikandr feeling a connection with Nasim, characters dying, but no! they survived! Although that completely other character died in a utterly random scene. Weird. Characters disappear, but wait, they just reappeared, Nikandr learns to fly, Nikandr saves the day, Nikandr dies, Nikandr is resurrected…  The main cast is teleported all around the islands, Saphia is seemingly devoured by spirits but a chapter later we learn that she is now healthier than she has been in months…

Honestly, I paid as much attention to the plot as is humanly possible, but one hour after finishing the novel I can’t remember all the action scenes, all the twists and turns, and where all the characters are supposed to be. The prose in the second half is h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e. I get that Beaulieu made his debut with this book, but come on! Towards the end, the novel devolves into this:

                             The main character did that, but then that happened. He could feel the magic stuff happening all around him. He could feel the stone pressing against his chest. That minor character lay unconscious with the spirit looming over him. A streltsi on the main character’s right fell dead to the ground, but immediately another one took his place. The main character pulled his pistol, but he realized it was unloaded. The windships were firing grape shots all around them, filling the air with lethal rounds. The sotnik waved with his foreign word above his head, beckoning the streltsi to form a circle around them, but the confusion was to great.

And then that happened. A hole opened up in the ground and the spirit roared. Then a windship crashed into the ground, streltsi and seamen screaming in agony as they were thrown from the wreck.

The main character did that other thing, but then the third thing happened. And then a fourth thing occurred. The main character and the minor character were running up the hill, the remaining streltsi following them. A roar filled the air as a cannon was fired and a grape shot tore into the streltsi. One fell to the ground with a shout, but the other followed the main character.

Da! That foreign word, that was explained that one time four hundred pages ago, it’s being summoned!” the minor character shouted, his curly hair waving in the air.

The main character could feel that that other character was close, because they had touched stones, which for some unexplained reason allowed a bunch of stuff, important to the plot, to happen.

Nyet! Do not jest”, the main character replied, cursing the fact that the author had included a completely useless list of characters instead of a glossary over foreign words. He had no idea what the hell was going around him. And what the blazes had happened to Jahalan?

It’s confusing, it’s lame, it’s repetitive and it’s not remotely exciting. Too much is happening all the time and a lot is left unexplained. Like how come a character, who was lying unconscious on the ground one minute ago, suddenly is running along with the main character. I got the impression that Beaulieu wrote the last two hundred pages by spending a couple of hours writing every day after work, thinking he had to put a bang into each segment of the text so the reader wouldn’t get bored. But didn’t anyone edit the final draft for him?

The prose is bland and nothing special, as are the interactions between the characters. There’s no humor or excitement in the text, no natural flow in it, it’s merely a straightforward depiction of what’s going on. The characters seemed complex at the beginning, but the final chapters turned them into one-dimensional platitudes. The ones that turned to the bad side are utterly vile and evil, while the good ones are absolute paragons of virtue. And Nikandr turns out to be the finest hero of them all, never doing anything wrong.

In conclusion, the first half of the book was decent, but it all fell apart towards the end. I had high expectations for this one and I’m sad that only the first half lived up to them. But the question remains, did I get the wrong version of the book? Or was the ending really such a confusing mass of random occurrences and unmotivated actions? And what happened to Jahalan?