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March 5, 2013 / minusbar

Book Review: Scourge of the Betrayer, by Jeff Salyards

Book Review: “Scourge of the Betrayer” by Jeff Salyards

 Scourge of the Betrayer is an impressive debut to what looks to be an even more impressive world and series. I went into this book with my doubts on how a new fantasy series could pull off efficient world building and character development in just under 300 pages. It seems Jeff Salyards was more than up to the tasks, as the small nucleus of character’s are very well fleshed out. He has managed to create a gripping and believable story that demands you engross yourself in.

Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies — or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon’s dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he’s about to find out for himself. Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men’s enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he’s killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe… and Arki might be next. Archiving the mundane doings of millers and merchants was tedious, but at least it was safe. As Arki heads off on a mysterious mission into parts unknown, in the company of the coarse, bloody-minded Syldoon,he is promised a chance to finally record an historic adventure well worth the telling, but first he must survive the experience! A gripping military fantasy in the tradition of Glen Cook, Scourge of the Betrayer explores the brutal politics of Empire-and the searing impact of violence and dark magic on a man’s soul.

The character ensemble, though small, felt very full due to the lush development of his major players: Arki, Lloi and Braylar. Each of them bring their own distinctly unique perspective to the story as it unfolds. Arki, a rather naïve scribe acts as the guide to the story (as a good scribe should), and is forced to see the harsh realities of the world he lives in. Although he may, at times, come off as innocent to the point of incompetence, his character is beautifully contrasted by the gruffness and cutthroat mentality of his companions. On that cue, Braylar is the polar opposite of Arki. He’s a hardened Syldoon soldier who seems to know nothing but grief and suffering. However, Jeff nimbly avoids typecasting Braylar as the typical heartless killer by making him a multifaceted and complex (borderline crazy? Nah!) captain who slowly unpeels layers of personality. By the end of the book, you may not yet fully understand him, but you definitely feel closer to getting there. Lastly, there’s Lloi, the “bridge character” between these two stark contrasts. She was by far my favorite character as we definitely got to see her open up more so than any other character in this story. Sometimes she manages to say more in a couple scenes than Arki and Braylar can in entire paragraphs, and I really liked that about her. Like all of the characters, none of them are perfect, and I loved them for that! The nitty-gritty realism made me love them all the more!

The way the story was told, to me, was quite interesting and refreshing. Rather than use the typical POV switches or narrative tact’s, he allows the entire story to be seen through the eyes of Arki. When Arki is not privy to knowing something, nor are we as readers. You’d think this would be something that could feel restrictive as a reader, but it surprisingly was quite enjoyable to be in the dark for so long. The unknowing was like a tool allowing my mind to speculate, rather than have the cards laid out for me. Also, it was nice to only see the inflection of an individual as I was allowed to interpret the thoughts of the characters around him and have my guess be as good as his. Often times fantasy series tend to coddle a reader with continually letting us know what everyone is thinking; this is not one of those times!

Although his world and characters are well grounded in realism, there are subtle hints to a deeper magic that could be extremely fun to explore further in later installments of the series. Without allowing myself to spoil too much, Bloodsounder (the weapon used by Braylar), is of particular interest to me due to the tormenting affects it has on the user. The creatures in the book, although not magical per se, are both terribly intriguing and quite scary to imagine. Lastly, the Veil, a powerful barrier that separates his written world into two pieces filled me with excitement as I knew there was so much more to uncover! These teasing elements, not fully explored in Scourge of the Betrayer, remind me of my first read through of Game of Thrones. The unknown mysteries of the fantastical elements make me salivate for what is to come.

Lastly, my God! Jeff knows how to write a good action scene. The first fight encounter was so exhilarating that did a double-take and had to immediately reread it. The sheer brutality of Braylar’s fight scenes were quite impressive, and left me hungry for more. Believe me, it’s always better to be left wanting more than wishing there was less. He evenly balances using description to create a mental image for readers and avoiding the trap of making them so wordy that the action comes off as slow and clumsy.

Overall, this story has wonderful pacing, action that makes you want to grab a stick and beat a tree and witty banter from wonderfully developed characters. If that is not enough to make you want to check out “Scourge of the Betrayer,” then I would suggest you try reading a different genre because this is an amazing example of Fantasy done right.

Thanks,

Roger Bellini

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