I managed to get hold of a DRM-free copy of The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu through StoryBundle's Indie Fantasy Bundle, back in January 2015.
After only recently getting around to reading it, the first thing that grabs you is the cover. FLYING SHIP ALERT!
It really is a beautiful image, conveying the feel of the windswept landscape described in the story.
The blurb is just as enticing:
Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.
When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...
It really works, doesn't it? There's a Napoleonic feel to the setting, with its muskets, cannons, European-like setting and landed families.
The setting is the reader's saviour through the opening chapters of the novel. Rather than lay everything out for you up-front, Beaulieu just drops you into the world. You pick up the mechanics of the world as you follow the characters. You begin to understand the people, the elemental magic, and the politics by observing the participants, rather than it being handed to you on a plate. This is a refreshing change from authors that prefer to tell rather than show.
You won't get lost on the winds though. There are plenty of hints and help in the story, and enough chances to pick up what you may have missed earlier on. It reminds me of how James Clavell expects you to learn Japanese while reading Shogun, but much, much easier to follow (and not as depressing).
While I did get my copy from a one-off StoryBundle, The Winds of Khalakovo is also available from the author's own website, along with the other novels in the The Lays of Anuskaya series, shorts and collections of stories in the same setting. I can't wait to explore the wider world and follow its characters through their further adventures.
The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu is available DRM-free from: