Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) History, Family and Memory… these are the seeds of destruction.
Bloodsounder’s Arc continues as Captain Braylar Killcoin and his retinue continue to sow chaos amongst the political elite of Alespell. Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual.
The Syldoonian Emperor Cynead has solidified his power base in unprecedented ways, and demands loyalty from all operatives. Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict.
Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and his sister Soffjian lie at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is an unsurprisingly short road. But it is a road filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen.
Thoughts: When I read the first novel in the series, Scourge of the Betrayer, I was incredibly impressed. Gritty and violent militaristic fantasy isn’t typically my thing. Not that I can’t handle battles or death or characters wandering around saying creative and disturbing swear words or anything of the sort. It’s just that typically, my experience had taught me that fantasy of this sort tends to leave me a bit bored, since I have little interest in armies or the kind of politics that usually involve armies. Then I read Salyards’s novel and was blown away, not just over how good the book was but also how much I enjoyed it. It was the kind of thing to possibly change my mind about an entire subcategory of genre novels!
Veil of the Deserters was every bit as good as I had come to expect from the author who could manage such a thing.
The story picks up shortly after where Scourge of the Betrayer ended, and if you’ve forgotten the situation because it’s been so long since you read the first book, then do yourself a favour and give it a reread first, because Salyards does not hold your hand when it comes to helpful recaps. The expectation is that you know what’s going on and don’t need a reminder or a recap or Killcoin debriefing his men to tell them what they already know for the reader’s sake.
As in the first book, the story is still told from the first-person viewpoint of Arkamondos, called Arki, the archivist hired by the Syldoon. The ultimate purpose for his presence with the group finally comes to light with the reveal of ancient scrolls and documents that Killcoin wants Arki to translate, looking for reference of his unique flail, Bloodsounder, or memory magic. Progress is hindered by the arrival of Captain Killcoin’s sister, Soffjian, and her demands that the group return to the city of Sunwrack at the Emperor’s request. Which turns out to be for reasons that none of them could have guessed, the sort of thing that changes the course of history.
The pacing of the story comes across as a bit uneven at times, going from frantic bloody battles to pages of exposition and people telling oddly detailed stories about their history to Arki, but rather than spoiling the book, it actually works rather well. A comment is made about how war is often long periods of waiting followed by short bursts of fighting and fearing for your life, which fits quite well with a lot of how the book is presented. The whole thing can’t be high-energy battling, nor, given the nature of the characters, can it not have battles now and again. The only thing that seemed off about this is how people telling things to Arki got so detailed as to recount someone else’s speech, which seems fine on paper but is rather unrealistic when telling a story aloud, especially unrehearsed.
Arki even comments that it’s unusual. Arki’s mental commentary really helps pull the story along, since he tends to think the very things that the reader is thinking about a situation, adding a solid sense of realism to his character. His viewpoint is a wonderful one, since it allows for a bit of blank-slate benefit where the reader learns alongside the character, but he’s also a well-established personality and is able to stand on his own as more than just a reader avatar, a pair of eyes we’re meant to see out of.
Veil of the Deserters really does a good job of not only continuing the story started in Scourge of the Betrayer, but also expanding upon the characters. As much as there’s a good deal of action, I still feel that the series is largely character-driven, that much of the story wouldn’t work half so well without the cast of characters that Salyards has written onto the pages. And we get a great chance to learn more about so many of them, to flesh them out even further from the already well-built characters seen previously. Salyards really does have amazing talent with this. Anyone who can make me want to read more about even Muldoos, crude cruel jerk that he is, deserves serious praise.
Long story short, you need to read this series. The second book is every bit as incredible as the first, and at no point was I ever bored or disappointed or anything but interested in the story moving forward so that I could find out what happens next, what developments are just around the corner. I certainly felt that way after closing the book; it ends in such a way that I’m practically salivating to get my hands on the next installment (sadly, it’s still in the process of being written, so I’ve got a while to wait). A book to take note of, by an author to keep your eye on.
(Received for review from the publisher.)