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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Scourge Of The Betrayer" and "Veil Of The Deserters" by Jeff Salyards (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Scourge Of The Betrayer HERE
Order Veil Of The Betrayers HERE
Read The Bibliosanctum's (Mogsy) interview with Jeff Salyards
Read Nick Sharps' interview with Jeff Salyards

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jeff Salyards was born and brought up in the northern parts of Illinois. From an early age he was into the fantastical worlds that spawned further worlds in his imagination. By day, he is a book editor for the American Bar Association; by night, he steadily works on writing newer worlds. Jeff currently lives near Chicago with his family.

ABOUT SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER: 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.

ABOUT VEIL OF THE DESERTERS: 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.

FORMAT/INFO: Scourge Of The Betrayer is 253 pages long divided over four untitled, unnumbered sections, while Veil Of The Deserters is 464 pages long divided similarly. Narration is in the first-person singularly via Arkamondos (Arki) in both volumes. May 1, 2012 marked the North American Hardcover and e-book publication of Scourge Of The Betrayer. Veil Of The Deserters was published in Hardcover and e-book form on June 3, 2014. Both books were published by Nightshade Books.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Imagine a world wherein the author decides to drop you (reader) into without any warning.  You flounder for a while and at the end, you either love his work or you feel he's wasting paper. I know you might be thinking of this enigmatic writer, but bear with me; I’m referring to this dude Jeff Salyards who’s as cruel as a writer as the best of them.

In his debut Scourge Of The Betrayer, he introduces us to Arkamondos, a young scribe who is hired by a company of Syldoonian soldiers captained by Braylar Killcoin. The story then unfolds as Arkamondos learns what truly is the life of a Syldoon soldier. His journey then is gloriously told in the first book as we get to see why he was hired and where are they going. The Syldoonians are a strange and dangerous lot with their skipper Braylar being the most lethal and secretive as well.

The story ends on such a note that makes you wonder as to what is truly happening and where the characters are headed. The second book Veil Of The Deserters, begins almost immediately after the end of its predecessor and we are then introduced to a new group of soldiers called the Memoridons who fight in a different way but are no less deadly. Braylar’s sister Soffjian heads this particular group, and the siblings don’t seem to share any love but only a rivalry that is deadly to comprehend. The main plot deals with the summons that has been issued by the Syldoonian emperor Cynead for all his companies and that means a journey back to the capital. What will happen is something that nobody can predict but danger is omnipresent and they will have to go to Sunwrack to obey their emperor.

This story while seeming very stereotypical is completely away from such tropes, the first book lays the foundation for the Bloodsounder’s Arc as we are introduced to the kingdom of Anjuria, Rivermost is the city wherein the story begins for Arkamondos and for the readers. It’s from herein that is becomes nigh unpredictable as Arki is forced to follow the captain and his crazy orders and ways, and record them to the minutest degree. That is the bargain and we get to see them all through Arki’s eyes. This is where Jeff Salyards’ tremendous characterization skills along with dialogue come in to superb form.  The obvious character who is the focus of the story is captain Braylar and there's no bigger enigma present. Faced with a cryptic functioning style, Arki struggles to understand Braylar and the author makes it hard for readers to decipher him by limiting the information to Arki's POV only.

The first book has Arki (and us along with him) stumble through out the plot not knowing whom to trust or know what was truly happening. The second book is much clearer in its plot as well as its secrets as Arki gets to know the men around him. This natural progression works very well within the course of the story as we get to learn what truly is happening with the ascension of the young emperor Cynead and how certain Syldoonian companies (like the Jackals) still want the return of the previous emperor Thumarr. The second volume also brings us an additional intriguing character in the form of Soffjian. Similarly to the first book wherein the focus was sharply on Braylar, in this volume Arki's fascination is extended to both siblings. This is indeed fascinating as the siblings provide a contrast with their own selves as well their military/martial bearings. This sibling conflict powers the second volume and has quite an interesting climax which allows for some fascinating context with regards to the third volume plot.

There’s also the curious Godveil, which is strewn across the Eastern half of the known world (as shown in the map). This veil has been created due the abdication of the gods of lore as told to the reader in the first volume. However the readers are given proper clarification about it in the sequel wherein we get to learn more about Braylar’s strange weapon and its possible connection to the Godveil. This magic in this series is quite understated and so I believe the eventual reasons of the Godveil formation will be fascinating to know. The author however keeps things very tight and we get a very limited understanding due to the POV structure.

Even though the story features only Arki as a narrator, we get to see a multitude of characters that are distinct from each other and no leas caustic to Arki. Beginning with Braylar, we meet other Syldoons such as Vendurro, Muldoss, Lloi, Hewspear and in the sequel we get to meet them again along with newer characters such as Soffjian, Skeelana, Emperor Cynead, Rusejenna, Commander Darzaak and a few others. The author’s characterization does help in making this story that much deeper and kudos to the author for having such an impressive character cast despite having a singular first person narrative.  The dialogue also helps as often the humor is at its blackest best with the Syldoonian speak among each other & their cursing. I enjoyed how Jeff managed to portray this military unit who have their own creative abuses and yet seem so realistic.

Lastly the only thing that perhaps can be construed as a downer is the pace of the story and this is present in both volumes of the Bloodsounder’s Arc. The story in the first volume meanders on and there has been a complaint that it almost reads like an over-extended prologue. With regards to this complaint, it seems to be true. The first book is a bit of one-off and the second book does an absolute one-eighty on that aspect. However the paces doesn’t quite become a rip-roaring one. Another strange aspect of both the books was that they have rather long sections, which aren’t quite broken into chapters. This was a strange move and one that actively contributes to the slowing of the plot pace.

The second book reveals a lot about the world, the magic and mythology (that is only hinted at so far) and gives us a really deeper look into all Syldoon soldiers that Arki has met so far. The second volume distinctly showcases what the author has in mind for this story and it seems to be grand in its scope. Think The Black Company but more grit, grayer morality and creative curses. I have to admit Jeff Salyards had me a bit confused with his debut but now after reading his sophomore effort, I can safely vouch that the Bloodsounder's Arc is heading in a fascinating direction.

CONCLUSION: Scourge Of The Betrayer and Veil Of The Deserters are the first two entries in Jeff Salyards’ debut series. It’s grim and gritty enough to satiate any fan of dark stories or grimdark fantasy. Be sure to check both these titles, as they are very excellent indicators of how dark and funny Jeff Salyards' writing is and that sure bodes well for fantasy fans in the future.


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