“Street urchins have been turning up missing in the great desert city of Sharakhai. Few care until the son of one of the city’s richest patrons goes missing as well.
The apothecary named Dardzada wants nothing to do with it, but his shrewd mind and skills as an apothecary make him indispensable to his cruel half-brother Layth, the captain of the guard tasked with solving the mystery.
When Layth insists he look deeper into the kidnappings, Dardzada is drawn into a struggle much larger than he ever anticipated, and he soon realizes it will take all his wits to save the victims and himself.”
In the Village Where Brightwine Flows is a Shattered Sands novella set in the same world as Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand novels. For those who don’t know, this ongoing epic fantasy series primarily focuses upon the desert city of Sharakhai and its inhabitants – a rich tapestry of layered worldbuilding threaded through with interesting characters. You don’t need to have read the novels to understand or follow this story, and in fact Brightwine does work as an effective gateway into this world.
At 65 pages, I read this novella straight through in an hour. The story follows one of the secondary characters to feature in the novels, Dardzada, and half of the novella’s strength lies in that characterisation. Dardzada is a sympathetic and interesting character, and Beaulieu draws on his past and family history to fuel the narrative and deepen the reader’s interest. It’s a credit to this novella that I felt such a connection with Dardzada in so short a time – I felt as though my understanding of Dardzada grew organically as the story went on, and some of my favourite parts were when the narrative explored the relationship between Dardzada and his half-brother Layth.
The novella’s second strength lies in its worldbuilding. Fans of the novels will know that Sharakhai is a vibrant, evocative city, and Brightwine conveys this beautifully. There’s a charm to Beaulieu’s writing that I think lies in his choice of details and in the framing of his imagery; he creates a world that lives and breathes beyond the pages, and this only deepens with how deftly he weaves the magic and mysticism of that world into the lives of its people. In some ways, Brightwine does benefit from the groundwork laid by the previous novels in this respect, but I do believe readers fresh to this world will experience the same engrossing wonder from reading Brightwine alone.
Where the novella fell down in comparison for me was the narrative itself. It’s a mystery, and although I loved the various elements of this – through the journey and to the conclusion – the stakes seemed somewhat removed. That’s not to say there aren’t stakes, but I didn’t feel fearful for Dardzada even as the novella drew to its climax, especially considering the dangerous circumstances he finds himself in. And the resolution did feel slightly more academic than emotional, partly because the real emotional impact for me was experienced halfway through with a particular insight into Darzdada’s childhood relationship with Layth. But that’s not to say the story overly suffered from this. Far from it.
I thoroughly enjoyed Brightwine and getting to know Dardzada. The setting is rich and the characterisation deep and interesting. I would recommend this to existing fans and new readers alike. Four out of five stars.
I really liked it.