Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.
Thoughts: It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that I felt fully comfortable giving a 5-star review. Scourge of the Betrayer, the first book in the Bloodsounders Arc, is the one to break that. Not only that, but given the comparisons to other authors, it’s also the book that is likely to make me check out books by Abercrombie, Cook, and other writers of gritty fantasy.
The story starts off a little slowly, with little action to speak of and a heavy dose of character-building. However, the writing style and endlessly interesting characters will distract you enough that you don’t even realize that you’re a third of the way through the book before any of the real action begins. The reader sees through the eyes of Arki, a scribe assigned to a group of Syldoon warriors in order to make a record of their actions. Arki is not a fighter, is not used to hard travel or harsh situations, but he takes to the task willingly, seeking a bit of adventure in his life. Between the action of battles and the political intrigue, he certainly gets more than he bargained for as the plot and motivation of the Syldoon around him slowly unfolds, pulling Arki deeper into a situation he’s not quite sure that he wants to be that much a part of.
There’s plenty of exposition, too, as Arki slowly learns the truth behind everything, but happily, this was not done in large info-dumps but instead done realistically, as Arki himself questions others and discovers things for himself. Plenty of hints are dropped throughout the tale that more is going on than meets the eye, but the foreshadowing is so well done that it all feels incredibly realistic. You don’t feel like the characters are being dense in overlooking something obvious, nor do you feel at the end that the revelations make no sense in context. Many authors could take a good lesson from Salyards in this.
The book is heavily character-driven, with foul language and crude sexuality peppered throughout the pages. Salyards has a true gift for writing characters that you want to read about, whether you love them or hate them, agree with them or want them to shut their mouths. He creates excitement, anger, tension, grief, all of it stunningly palpable and endlessly entertaining. The plot itself is rich, detailed, and full of creative twists and turns, with plenty of glimpses into a larger world that promises to be just as compelling as what little we get to see of it herel.
After reading this debut novel, I can say with certainty that Jeff Salyards is an author that I will be keeping my eye on, and if you’re a fan of gritty realism in your fantasy, then I suggest you do the same. From beginning to end, Scourge of the Betrayer does not disappoint, and is well worth every minute you spend on it.
(Provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)