Review: The Doors at Dusk and Dawn by Bradley P. Beaulieu

“In the western reaches of the Great Shangazi Desert, the long-distance horse race known as Annam’s Traverse is about to begin. All is thrown in doubt, however, when Sukru the Reaping King arrives unannounced from Sharakhai and puts forth a champion of his own.

For a young woman named Leorah, the more important matter is the fabled amethyst ring offered up as a prize. She knows of the ring, and becomes obsessed with winning the race. This horrifies her twin sister, Devorah, who knows more of the ring’s secrets than Leorah, and is desperate to hide them from the Reaping King.

As the race unfolds, and King Sukru’s champion comes closer and closer to winning the prize, Devorah stumbles upon a secret that puts not only the ring’s future in doubt, but her sister’s as well.”

So this is another of Bradley P. Beaulieu’s novellas set in his Shattered Sands universe, linking to his main series of novels which began with Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand. I reviewed another of these novellas, In the Village Where Brightwine Flows, last year and gave it a solid four stars – and just like that other novella, this one can be read as a standalone or as an entry point into the wider series.

The Doors at Dusk and Dawn is set a good many years before the events of Twelve Kings and focuses on one of the series’ secondary characters and her sister – the characters Leorah and Devorah. Yet again, one of Beaulieu’s strengths is his characterisation and how he roots them in this layered, viscerally imagined “sand & sorcery” setting. It was a joy to explore the sisters’ relationship and their contrasting personalities, watching them grow and develop over the course of the novella.

Beaulieu manages to cram a lot of plot – and emotion – into around 140 pages as we follow the events surrounding a long-distance horse race in the desert. Leorah and Devorah become heavily invested in the race’s outcome, as do a number of secondary characters who seem to come alive off the page. There are plenty of thrills, and the mythology of the Shattered Sands universe is given new layers and dimensions which fans of the main series will love.

But it’s the finale of this story which cements its five-star rating. A poignant and bittersweet gut-punch of an ending, stemming organically from everything that comes before, and which haunted me for days afterward. Absolutely loved it.

An incredible read.

You can learn more about Bradley P. Beaulieu here, and The Doors at Dusk and Dawn is available from Amazon.co.uk here. I read the UK paperback edition.

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