If you like your fantasy gritty and dark, with layers of plots and schemes, then Jeff Salyard’s debut novel will probably be right up your alley.
It’s been out for a while, but as regular readers of the blog will know, I’m a bit behind. And I have no idea why the ebook is priced the same as the hardcover. I sure didn’t pay that much. (This wasn’t a review copy.) Baen has the book at a reasonable price, which is where I got my copy.
But I digress. This isn’t a rant about ridiculous ebook prices. This is a rave about how good this novel is. If Salyards can keep up this level of quality with the rest of the series, he’ll be a major player in the field.
The story is told from the point of view Arkamondos, a young man who makes his living as a scribe. He’s been hired to chronicle the adventures a band of Syldoon warriors. He’s tired of chronicling the self-important bloviating of rich merchants and minor nobility and thinks this might be a change of pace.
Boy, is it ever. He really should be asking himself why a group of warriors who are as concerned about secrecy as these guys seem to be would need a scribe. The Syldoon are feared and regarded as trouble by most people, and for good reason. Arki is about to find out just how much trouble they can cause.
Led by Captain Braylor Killcoin (I love that name), the group sets out for a distant city. To get there, they have to cross the Grass Sea, a wide plain where the grass can grow taller than a man. Once they reach their destination, though, that where the real danger lies.
Braylor is a man haunted by his own ghosts, and in a unique way that I hope Salyards explores further. He’s playing a dangerous game, and Arki only thinks he knows how dangerous. He doesn’t. (Don’t worry, neither will you, although you’ll think you do as well.)
There are wheels with wheels, plots within plots, and schemes within schemes. Salyards handles this aspect of his story with a deftness that some more experience authors lack. He parcels out information and surprises at a good pace, always keeping things interesting.
There were times, however, when I got the feeling Salyards was making things up as he went along, especially towards the end when he introduced the Godveil. This is a barrier that gods left when they abandoned mankind, A mention earlier in the book would have been appreciated since Braylor’s reaction to it hinted that the Godveil could be important down the road.
I think, though, that much of that feeling of making things up as he went along came from how Braylor Killcoin spoon fed information to Arki. Like I said, Arki really doesn’t know what’s going on until the last chapter, and I’m not sure he does even then. Salyards probably has a few more surprises up his sleeve.
The action scenes are well choreographed and are some of the most riveting passages in the book. Braylor Killcoin is a fascinating character. He’s extremely brutal and amoral yet still capable of the occasional act of thoughtfulness. The dialogue crackles, and the camaraderie among the warriors feels genuine.
Scourge of the Betrayer is a dark, brutal, and extremely coarse book, but it’s one that’s hard to put down. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Veil of the Deserters, which hit shelves in June, into the TBR pile.