Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Bradley P. Beaulieu Interview - When Jackals Storm the Walls

Photo Credit: © Al Bogdan

Bradley P. Beaulieu fell in love with fantasy from the moment he began reading The Hobbit in third grade. While Bradley earned a degree in computer science and engineering and worked in the information technology field for years, he could never quite shake his desire to explore other worlds. He began writing his first fantasy novel in college. It was a book he later trunked, but it was a start, a thing that proved how much he enjoyed the creation of stories. It made him want to write more. He went on to write The Lays of Anuskaya series as well as The Song of Shattered Sands series. He has published work in the Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies. He has won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award and earned a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination. Learn more about Bradley by visiting his website, quillings.com, or on Twitter at @bbeaulieu.


What do you hope for people to be thinking after they read your novel?
Years ago I attended a WorldCon. I was listening to a panel of authors talk about the ins and outs of writing, and Harry Turtledove said something that’s always stuck with me. In answering a question about research and how much of it to show to the reader, he made an off-handed commented about how some books feel paper thin while others live beyond the page.

He was answering a question about writing technique, but I think this is a really good goal for an author to aim for. It’s only my humble opinion, but I think if you can manage to make your characters, your world, and your story live beyond the page, you’ve made something special.

That’s what I hope people are thinking about after they’ve read one of my novels. I hope they wonder what becomes of the characters when the last page is done. I hope they felt they were real and that they lived and loved and fought to set their world aright.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
My initial, knee-jerk response was to say it was having some of my idols blurb my books. It was immensely gratifying to have Robin Hobb, Glen Cook, and C. S. Friedman, some of my favorite authors, read my work and say nice things about it.

But I’d like to expand on that answer a bit. It’s immensely gratifying to have anyone read my work and enjoy it. I get constant satisfaction when people drop me a note or share their love for the books on social networking or leave a review about them. One thing that I’m still blown away by is when readers say they’re re-reading my books. Re-reading them! That’s a massive compliment for a writer, and I’m so honored when I hear about people diving into the books for a second, third, or fourth read.

I know this is an interview question, but I just want to say thank you to all the fans out there. I’m forever grateful for your enthusiasm and kind words.

If you could be a character in any novel you’ve ever read, who would you be and why?
I’m going to be cheeky and give two. The first is Bilbo Baggins. The second is Hazel from Watership Down.

In the case of Bilbo, The Hobbit was my gateway into reading fantasy. I read it in third grade and was enchanted by this strange little hobbit who lives in a hole in the ground and leads such a comfortable life getting swept up in a grand adventure. Bilbo was such a kind soul. He was also anything but worldly wise. I loved being able to learn about Middle Earth as he learned about it.

I read Watership Down much, much later (only a handful of years ago), but it gave me a very similar feel (and not just because both characters live in comfortable holes in the ground!) I came to sympathize with Hazel greatly. I experienced his nervousness at leaving the burrow after Fiver’s prophetic vision. I worried over the survival of their new colony. I felt the deep bond that developed between Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and the other rabbits. The very fact that it was about a group of animals who’d been living a simple existence and were thrown into these dire circumstances made me care about them even more.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Sigh. The internet, certainly. Social networking is an ever-present lure. Having a good writing session is so satisfying, and yet it’s hard to convince the mind to stop faffing about and get to the work. You’d think it would be easier!

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I have three projects currently in the hopper after The Song of the Shattered Sands is wrapped up.

The first is Absynthe, a decopunk novel set in a parallel universe Roaring Twenties Chicago. It tells the story of Liam Mulcahey, a veteran from the Great War who survives an attack on a speakeasy only to discover that the war he thought he fought in Europe was in fact fought on American soil. How he could have forgotten he has no idea, until Grace Savropoulis, a wealthy heiress, enters his life and reveals the truth: that he was involved in a military experiment during the war that had devastating consequences for the country after war’s end, and that he, Liam, is one of the few people who can do anything about it.

I also have a trilogy of sci-fi thrillers waiting to be written called The Days of Dust and Ash, which tells the story of a broken world, a world where once-great cities have been reduced to isolated pockets, enclaves that fight to survive against a semi-sentient plague known as the ash. Ash devours the landscape, remaking it in its own horrific image. What’s worse, it creates demons, twisted creatures born from the fears of the humans who have survived. A powerful substance known as dust helps to fight the darkness, but the only real way to defeat it is to learn of its origins, a thing that becomes possible when an ash mage known as Blue discovers a mysterious girl named Xioka, who may have the ability to unlock the past and find a way to save the world.

The last project is a new epic fantasy called The Precipice Trilogy, a story about a dragon-riding thief, the gender-flipped, Sherlock Holmes-type inquisitor who’s chasing him, and a dark god they have no idea is about to re-enter the world.

If you could work for anyone you choose, who would it be?
Ha, I already am. Me!

I’m working full time at writing and, while it has its ups and downs, I vastly prefer it to what I was doing when I made the leap to full-time writing four years ago. Back then, I was working for IBM as a software architect. It was largely a pre-sales position in which I would talk to customers about their requirements and develop documents in legalese. I could do the work remotely, which was nice, but it was getting to be dry work. I was really itching for a change by the time I decided to give full-time writing a go.

What is the first job you have had?
I was a farm worker one summer when I was thirteen. I went to a field each morning and picked onions. Pulled ‘em up from the dirt, clipped ‘em into a bushel, and got paid 25 cents for each bushel. It was sweaty, back-breaking work, but I loved it. I was making actual money! I remember making all sorts of plans for which Star Wars figures I was going to buy with all my filthy lucre, plans my parents doused with the need to “save.” Pfah. As if a thirteen-year-old needs to save money!

Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
I have business cards my grandfather had printed up. They’re from the 1940’s, I believe?

Just look at that phone number! It’s a good reminder of my family and where I came from. It keeps me humble.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve really enjoyed flying over to the UK to attend GollanczFest. Gollancz publish the Shattered Sands books in the UK, and for a number of years, they’ve hosted GollanczFest, a small, fan-focused festival spent at a book store over the course of a weekend in London. I adore London, getting to talk with fellow authors, and meeting fans. GollanczFest was like the perfect storm of writing goodness.

First concert?
I can’t remember now if this was the very first one, but it was certainly one of the first. My friends and I got tickets to Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see INXS in 1986. I was a huge fan and was sooo excited to see them live. As it turned out, Mother Nature had other plans. A massive, and I mean massive, thunderstorm rolled in. It was a complete deluge. The show was cancelled. My friends and I sprinted to my old, red ‘65 Rambler, but by then we were completely, utterly drenched. We might as well have jumped in Lake Michigan before heading back to the car. We didn’t see INXS, but we were all so shocked by the rain we didn’t care. It was a great bonding experience, and we still had fun.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Oh, definitely the former. Break-ups are hard, but finding true love is one of the greatest experiences we can have. Break-ups can make you wish the relationship itself never happened, especially when the sting of it is still fresh, but in time you often find yourself enriched by having been that close to someone. (Please note that I’m not referring to abusive relationships here, but those where the couple enter into it honestly, genuinely care for one another, and things just don’t work out for whatever reason.)

To avoid spoilers, I didn’t want to include anything from later in the book, but I thought it might be fun to share King Ihsan’s opening scene. It reminds us where we left off in the last book and sets the tone, not only for Ihsan’s thread but the book overall. Things are becoming dicey and a bit desperate in the desert!

* * *

          As King Ihsan guided his golden akhala over the dunes, the wind pressed against him like a drunk lover. His eyes were reduced to slits. The veil of his turban, now hopelessly soiled with amber dust, was pulled tight across his face. It left only a slit through which to see, yet time and time again the tireless, biting sand found its way in. He turned away from it, blinked the grit from his eyes, then scanned the amber-streaked horizon ahead, praying he was near his destination.

          His golden akhala and stalwart companion, Barkhan, plodded ever onward, as much a victim as Ihsan was to the unrelenting storm. No, it was worse for the horse, Ihsan reasoned. The poor creature had no say in it; Ihsan certainly did.

          He would have apologized for it had he not lost his tongue to Surrahdi the Mad King. With my own bloody knife, too. In place of words, he patted Barkhan’s neck, flaking away some of the sand caked into his coat. I am sorry, Barkhan. Truly.

          The horse threw his head back and nickered, sending a baleful look Ihsan’s way.

          It couldn’t be helped! Ihsan thought. And besides, if you want someone to blame, blame Yusam. Or the gods. Or even the fates, but don’t blame me! We are both but puppets in their schemes.

          Barkhan plodded on, cresting a dune and taking to the shifting surface of its windward side.

          In the months since Nayyan had delivered Barkhan to him in the blooming fields, he’d considered selling the horse several times. Barkhan was purebred, and many, upon realizing this, would inevitably think of Sharakhai, purebreds being somewhat rare anywhere but in the city. It was the sort of association Ihsan needed like he needed his eyes put out. But Barkhan was an amazing animal. Nayyan had personally chosen him for Ihsan from her own stock—he was a horse sired from two of the finest beasts ever to gallop across the Great Mother. No one could pay him what Barkhan was worth. And the simple truth was that Ihsan had come to trust the horse more than anyone he’d ever known. He’d part with the grapes between his legs before he’d sell Barkhan.

          The wind suddenly changed direction, and Ihsan was caught in a powerful squall. Sand scoured him from the left, threatening to throw him from his saddle. Barkhan, accustomed to such things, stopped, lowered his head and, when the squall had passed, resumed his stoic pace.

          Ihsan hoped they were still headed toward the caravanserai known as Çalabin but was no longer sure. Earlier that day, when he’d left from the slopes of the nearby hills, the caravanserai had been distant, a smudge along the horizon. The wind had been meager then, but had picked up shortly after they’d embarked and hadn’t let up since. He’d decided to let Barkhan find their path on his own.

          But gods, the wind. It was so fierce it was hard to breathe. He was just about to rein Barkhan over, lay him down, and use him for shelter when a dark shape loomed ahead. A ship, Ihsan realized—a ketch, perhaps one of the fleet he’d seen anchored near Çalabin that morning. He might have considered it bad luck had he not read about this meeting in the Blue Journals, left behind by Yusam after his death, where Yusam had recorded his visions.

          In a small caravanserai, Yusam’s entry had read, to the north, I reason, Qarthüm or Çalabin. A King of Sharakhai wanders through a haze, surrounded by ships, searching for hints of his past. He is looking for a key, or perhaps many keys. Keys to saving Sharakhai. He enters a dark pit, a place one goes to forget. There he meets two others: one who preens, another with the mark of a traitor.

         In the margins, written beside the primary entry, was a note:

          The vision seen again, but this time the three of them speak in a small room with two beds. The sound of an oud warbles. The air is heavy with fragrant smoke. A parlor?

          Ihsan urged Barkhan on. He was confident in his purpose, confident he wouldn’t be stopped even when a squad of Kundhuni guardsmen with dark clothes and bright blue turbans appeared before him and one of them, a leggy tree of a man, raised his hand. He shouted at Ihsan, though his words were swallowed by the wind.

          Ihsan snapped Barkhan’s reins, refusing to slow. When the tall soldier grabbed the reins roughly, Barkhan threw his head back, but the man held tight. Ihsan nearly put his fingers to his lips, ready to whistle an order for Barkhan to rear up and club the man for his presumption, but he thought better of it and instead pulled his veil down to allow the man to see his face. He set his lips to quavering and put on a look of raw, honest intensity, as if he counted himself fortunate to be alive.

          The soldier glared at him from behind his bright blue veil, took a good look at Barkhan, then released his hold on the reins as if the horse had offended him. He jutted his chin toward what Ihsan assumed was the caravanserai itself, and in a thick Kundhuni accent shouted, “Go!” as if he were lord of the Great Shangazi itself.

          Ihsan spurred Barkhan on. He passed several ships. There was a prize hidden somewhere inside those ships, Ihsan knew, a man who might very well be scared off if he learned of Ihsan’s presence. It was a worry for another time, though. There was something he needed first, and it lay in the caravanserai ahead.

          When he reached the caravanserai’s outskirts, he guided Barkhan between walled-off gardens and clutches of mudbrick homes, all barely discernible through the roaring amber wind. He finally reached the heart of the caravanserai: a blocky expanse of sandstone where the wells were kept and a dozen ships were moored. In the far corner of this structure was an oud parlor known simply as The Abandon.

          After giving Barkhan over to a stable girl, Ihsan stepped inside the parlor and shook himself off. The sound of the wind dropped, mixing with the hubbub of the tight crowd and the mournful melody of the oud being played in one corner. Many eyes shifted to him. He let them look—they’d only been drawn by the sound of the wind—but how strange it felt to be on display; indeed, to be back among humanity after a full five months in the desert with only a horse and a set of cryptic journals for company.

           One by one, the patrons returned to their conversations. Hookahs, liquor bottles, and glasses complicated the surfaces of the low tables. The people surrounding them sat on dusty, mismatched pillows, the bright colors muted by the clouds of pungent tabbaq smoke. Ihsan wove his way to the bar, where a dozen patrons leaned or sat on stools, and ordered a glass of araq, not in the customary way, but by pointing at the drink of a burly man sitting on a stool nearby.

          The barkeep, a goggle-eyed fellow with deep wrinkles webbing his face, leaned in and shouted, “You sure, friend? It’s expensive.”

           With a nod, Ihsan dropped two silver six-pieces onto the bar. The barkeep smiled, grabbed a bottle of liquor from the highest shelf behind him, and poured a glass. Ihsan, meanwhile, swept his gaze over the crowded room to a corner table he’d noticed on his way in.

           At the table were two men. Both wore weathered khalats and turbans with their veils hanging loose. The lighting was dim enough that their faces were shadowed, but he recognized them from their postures alone.

          One was imposing, the sort of man you’d think twice about offending, then once again for good measure. He was Husamettín, the King of Swords. He had his turban pulled down over his forehead, so low it practically swallowed his eyebrows. One with the mark of a traitor, Yusam’s vision had read. Was that what he was hiding?

          The shorter of the two, King Cahil, looked cockier. He had the same look he’d worn for four hundred years, like he was ready to challenge anyone in the room for looking at him the wrong way.

          His drink poured, Ihsan took a sip and shrugged. It was expensive all right, but it was nothing compared to the blends that could be found in Sharakhai. Even so, he savored it. He’d long run out of Tulogal in the desert.

         When the front door opened again, Husamettín and Cahil looked up expectantly. The stable girl entered, ran up to the bar, and waved to the barkeep. When the barkeep bent close, the girl cupped her hand over his ear and spoke, too low for Ihsan to hear.


          “Just now,” the girl said. “They’re still leaving.”

          The door opened again, and a Kundhuni, the very same man who’d stopped Ihsan earlier, waved sharply to a table of his countrymen, who immediately stood and left with him.

          “Take care of the drinks,” the barkeep said to the girl. With a worried expression on his lined face, he ducked through a gap below the bartop and headed into the howling wind.

          In the corner, the pair of mislaid Kings had watched the exchange carefully. When Cahil nodded, Husamettín stood and slipped through a nearby archway. A woman bearing a shamshir, who’d blended well into the crowd, stood from her stool and followed Husamettín. The sheath was of poor workmanship, but Ihsan would bet that the sword inside was made of ebon steel. It was Yndris, Ihsan realized, Cahil’s bloodthirsty daughter and one-time warden of the Blade Maidens.

          When they’d gone, Ihsan took up his drink and wove through the crowd toward Cahil. Of the two men, he would vastly have preferred speaking to Husamettín who, though rigid as sandstone at times, had always listened to reason. Cahil, on the other hand, often acted like a child who’d missed his last meal.

          Cahil dropped some coins onto the table and was just heading for the front door when he noticed Ihsan. His eyes widened in surprise and he scanned the crowd anew, perhaps wondering if a storm of Silver Spears were about to sweep into the parlor and attack, or a hand of Blade Maidens in black battle dresses.

          When neither materialized, Cahil grabbed Ihsan by the ruff of his thawb and dragged him into the dark passageway after Husamettín. Cahil passed several doors, dragging Ihsan along with him until they reached the end of the hall. There he shoved Ihsan through the doorway and threw him onto one of the nearby beds.

          He loomed over Ihsan, his knife held up, plain for Ihsan to see. “If I think you’re about to use your power on me, I’ll slit your throat, understand?”

          Ihsan’s reply was to open his mouth, thereby revealing the ruin Surrahdi the Mad King had made of it. Cahil stared and smiled as if he were picturing himself doing the cutting. Then he sobered, the momentary fantasy dissolved.

          “Why the fuck are you here, Ihsan?”

Ihsan made several hand signs, the sort the Blade Maidens used. For the same reason as you, he said to Cahil through the signs, to find Zeheb, our lost King.

          He’d never bothered much with the non-verbal language before his self-imposed exile, but Nayyan had included a detailed dictionary of them, a resource that included illustrations and a wider vocabulary than the one the Maidens were typically taught. He’d mastered the entire book in the months since leaving Sharakhai.

          As the meaning of Ihsan’s words sunk in, Cahil’s demeanor went dark. “And you think to help us?”

          Why else? Ihsan signed.

          “No.” Cahil coughed. His free hand went to his chest. “No, yours is the last sort of help we need.”

          You’re wrong. Without my help, you will fail.

          Cahil gave a scoffing laugh, but there was doubt in his eyes.

          Yusam saw it, Ihsan went on. He wrote about it in his journals.

          Cahil blinked. He’d gone completely still, as if working through the implications of Ihsan’s words. The hand against his chest pressed harder while his cheeks and forehead turned a splotchy red. He blinked and shook his head like a drunk trying to wake himself, then fell to one knee. The only thing keeping him from collapsing to the floor was a hand against the edge of the opposite bed. By the gods who breathe, he looked like he was going to perish on the spot.
          Ihsan helped him onto the bed, then poured a glass of water from a nearby pitcher and held it out. Cahil glanced at it, then focused on the ceiling, as if the dusty slats were the only things keeping him alive. After a moment, however, he accepted the glass, took several sips, then set the glass on the bedside table with a healthy clack.

          Ihsan sat on the opposite bed, elbows on his knees, and waited for the spell to pass.

          Breathing steadily, Cahil’s eyes flicked Ihsan’s way. “If we fail it’s likely because you arrived”—he waved along his body—“and caused this.”

          Ihsan echoed Cahil’s motion. I hardly think I’m responsible for your condition, whatever it is. When Cahil’s face went dark, Ihsan went on. It was Meryam, wasn’t it? There was a vision, a woman in red stabbing you in the heart.

          Cahil’s face screwed up in annoyance. “That was always the problem with Yusam. He got things wrong as often as he got them right. It was your bloody Nayyan who nearly killed me, and with a crossbow bolt, not a knife.”

          Nayyan, Ihsan mused. She hadn’t shared that when she’d told him the story of the confrontation between Cahil and the lesser Kings who’d deposed their elders. It’s still rather close, don’t you think?

          For a time, Cahil simply breathed. “You said we’d fail without you. What did the vision show?”

          Just then the door flew open and Yndris rushed in. Her torn dress was filthy with amber dust, and now the veil of her turban was down. More importantly, she held a naked shamshir in one hand, an ebon blade, which she appeared all-too-ready to use.

          The old Cahil, the one in Sharakhai with all the power he could handle, might have allowed his daughter to lop off Ihsan’s head, as she clearly wanted to. This Cahil, however, the broken one, forestalled her with a simple lift of his hand. Yndris didn’t seem pleased but stayed her sword anyway while, behind her, Husamettín watched their odd exchange with his piercing, hawklike gaze.

          Ihsan could see several thin scars on Husamettín’s forehead. Were Ihsan to lift the dark head cloth, he had no doubt he’d find a scar, the mark of a traitor, rendered in the old tongue.

          “Zeheb?” Cahil asked.

          “Gone,” Husamettín replied, “along with his Kundhuni caretakers and all seven of their ships.” His gaze swung to Ihsan. “They were unnerved by a wanderer entering the caravanserai on a golden akhala.”

          Cahil’s head rolled toward Ihsan. “You caused them to flee.” He stared deeper into Ihsan’s eyes. “You knew it would happen!”

          Ihsan thought of lying, but what would be the point? I had to secure my services somehow, didn’t I?

          Cahil’s face went purple. Yndris drew back her sword, looking as if she was ready to take Ihsan’s life no matter what her father said, but she held back when Cahil, with great effort, lifted himself off the bed. “Enough, Yndris,” he said with clear reluctance. “Ihsan’s with us now.

The fifth book in The Song of the Shattered Sands series--an epic fantasy with a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action.

The reign of the kings of Sharakhai has been broken. The blood mage, Queen Meryam, now rules the city along with the descendants of the fabled twelve kings.

In the desert, Çeda has succeeded in breaking the asirim's curse. Those twisted creatures are now free, but their freedom comes at great cost. Nalamae lies dead, slain in battle with her sister goddess. Çeda, knowing Nalamae would have been reborn on her death, sets out on a quest to find her.

The trail leads Çeda to Sharakhai where, unbeknownst to her, others are searching for Nalamae as well. Çeda's quest to find her forces her into a terrible decision: work with the kings or risk Sharakhai's destruction.

Whatever her decision, it won't be easy. Sharakhai is once more threatened by the forces of the neighboring kingdoms. As the powers of the desert vie for control of the city, Çeda, her allies, and the fallen kings must navigate the shifting fates before the city they love falls to the schemes of the desert gods.

You can purchase When Jackals Storm the Walls at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of When Jackals Storm the Walls 
(The Song of the Shattered Sands #5) by Bradley P. Beaulieu.


  1. "What are you most passionate about today?" Political issues!

  2. Today I'm not passionate about anything. Social distancing has made me avoid the news so I really don't even know what is currently happening in the world.