Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
Title: The Winds of Khalakovo
Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu
If your reading habits are anything like mine, difficult pronunciation in a book can
be a real turn off. If I scan down a book's jacket and find that the main characters'
names are long strings of apostrophes and consonants, nine times out of ten I'll put
it right back on the shelf and move on. This is not the case for all books, of course
-- I shudder to think who would I be right now if I had never picked up Lloyd
Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, but discussion over the pronunciation of
"Eilonwy" often kept my best friend and me awake into the wee hours.
From the very front cover (the author's last name is pronounced "bowl-yer"), The
Winds of Khalakovo can appear daunting -- so I will tell you right away that this is
an excellent, epic, Russian-based fantasy about airships and elemental spirits. It is
absolutely worth the time it takes to become familiar with the characters. I'll even
help you out a bit so you can jump right in.
The best rule of thumb when pronouncing eyeball-exploding names that have been
translated from a non-Germanic or non-Romantic language is to pronounce every
letter. There is never a set translation -- from the Greek, "adelfos" and "adelphos"
are both spelled correctly, because delta has a "f" sound -- but translators usually
do their best to spell the word or name phonetically. My own name is a great
example: "Alethea" is pronounced by enunciating every letter, and both "e"s are
Can you pronounce "Khalakovo," "Nikandr," and "Maharraht"? Of course you
can. But trying to memorize the map or the glossary before you read the book will
probably explode your eyeballs, so I advise against it. Just jump right in and start
Continued Below Advertisement
There is a blight in Khalakovo, and a wasting disease. In the midst of all this
turmoil, two of the Nine Dukes are uniting their children in marriage -- for
financial gain as well as a boost in national morale. But the guerrilla Maharraht are
set on attacking the majestic windships and destroying the Landed Gentry, and
they are using elemental spirits to do it.
The nomenclature of the spirits is also daunting, but when you figure out the logic
to it, it's easily recognizable (if not so easily said). The elemental spirits are called
"hezhan," and the men who master control of them are "quiram." The elements are
"hava" (wind), "vana" (earth), "dhosha" (life), "surra" (fire), and "jala" (water).
Then you just put the words together: havaquiram are the masters of havahezhan.
Without knowing this rule, a four-letter word (that letter being "h") like
"dhoshahezhan" might explode your eyeballs.
Prince Nikandr is an excellent protagonist. The reader sympathizes with him right
away, and he's so busy dealing with the attacks on his country (as well he should
be), that we never know if his heart truly lies with Princess Atiana (his betrothed)
or Rehada (his Maharraht mistress). We never stop cheering for him when his
soulstone goes dark, or during his quest to rescue Nasim, the strange orphan boy
with stranger powers.
The Winds of Khalokovo is filled with clean prose, intelligent language, and
brilliant imagination. Reading this fantasy was like sinking my teeth into a rich and
exotic dessert. It was certainly not a fluffy palate-cleanser with a cheesy,
predictable ending, and it was worth every ounce of energy I put in the learning
curve to read it. I challenge you all to do the same.
". . . and many others."
Any writer who has ever been in a magazine or anthology hates the words ". . . and
many others." Reviewers do read the whole book or issue, but only a few stories
still resonate when that reviewer sits down to write his or her column, and those are
the stories that get mentioned. Depending on the reviewer and his or her state of
mind at the time, the highlight stories usually vary pretty wildly. The rest fall into a
blanket sentence like: "These stories, and many others, make this anthology well
worth the purchase price."
I don't like giving bad reviews -- reading is incredibly subjective. If a book
doesn't appeal to me, my next-door neighbor might love it. I refuse to bash any
author who had the talent and good fortune to land a book contract, especially if
it's an author I might meet at a convention one day. And I'm never going to tell
anyone not to read something (unless it puts more money into that horrible
Snooki's pocket). So if you're looking for badmouthing here (apart from that
Snooki bit), you're not going to find it.
Last year, I took on the responsibility of being the official monthly reviewer here at
IGMS (instead of the bi-monthly alongside the esteemed James Maxey). You can
imagine how many books cross the threshold of my door (or my inbox) each week,
and how many books I start that -- for one reason or another -- never get finished.
In the three years I've been reviewing for IGMS, I have never failed to turn in two
(minimum) or three (maximum) reviews -- usually I am far ahead of my reading
and turn my columns in early. This month, that was not the case. (It certainly
wasn't from a lack of inventory.) To give you a taste of the reviewing lifestyle,
here are a few of the books I've stopped reading over the last few months that --
for one reason or another -- you haven't seen in this column.
Hexbound, by Chloe Neill -- I made it about 70 pages into this book and realized
it wasn't working for me. This is a sequel to Firespell, and there was too much in
the first chapter that referenced the previous book. The story lost both me and my
interest -- which was disappointing, since I was was intrigued by the back-cover
copy. I may one day go back and start with Firespell . . . though considering my
TBR pile, I doubt it.
Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev -- This book is an exceptionally unique book,
written in an exceptionally brilliant stage-play format. Shakespeare, theatre, and
fairies: what's not to love? I took the gorgeous dust jacket off and set it on the shelf
so I wouldn't mess it up while reading. Now, I can't seem to find the book . . . but
the pretty dust jacket is right here (grumble). If ever the twain shall meet again, I
look forward to reading the rest.
Starbound, by Joe Haldeman -- In this book there is human life, there is life on
Mars, and there are "Others." I picked it up and started reading it the morning
before my copy of Robin McKinley's Pegasus showed up at the bookstore (see last
month's review column). When assembling the books for this particular article, I
found Starbound and realized I never finished. Now I can.
Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock -- I picked
up this book in an overwhelming desire to a) read more science fiction and b)
indulge myself with Doctor Who. Unfortunately, Moorcock indulged himself a bit
too much with purple prose, and I only made it partway into Chapter Two before I
gave up. Perhaps my hopes were a bit too high.
Night School, by Mari Mancusi and Ghost Town, by Rachel Caine -- Mari
Mancusi is a dear friend of mine and the publisher offered me an interview with
Rachel Caine . . . but neither of those enticements were enough for me to get over
the vampire hump. Vampires have been "hot" for the last ten years . . . and I've
been tired of them for the last eight. It's gotten to the point now where I find them
neither sexy nor interesting . . . which is a bummer, because I really did want to
enjoy both of these books. Mari and Rachel: it's not you. It's me. I promise. I hope
your books still sell tons of copies.
Read more by Alethea Kontis