Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: Scourge of the Betrayer

Many fantasy debuts get lots of attention and hype, then fail to live up to expectations.  In my experience, it is a rare occasion when a fantasy debut not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds my own expectations and manages to bring something new and fresh to the table.  Jeff Salyards' debut, The Scourge of the Betrayer, does just that.

Arkamondos, a young, bookish and inexperienced scribe has recently been hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of soldiers from the Syldoon Empire.  Syldoon soldiers have a dire reputation throughout the realm as treacherous bastards who eat babies and virgins, so it should come as no surprise that the group Arki hires on with are a tough bunch.  The toughest and most enigmatic of them all is the company's captain, and leader, Braylar Killcoin.

Braylar is a mysterious guy to say the least, simultaneously frightening and fascinating. Braylar's weapon of choice, a flail, bearing the heads of old long lost gods, is as mysterious as it's owner, as the weapon appears to possess some magical qualities.  However, Arki signed on with this crew in hopes of recording a historic adventure, and it appears that's what he'll get as they embark on a mysterious mission...all he's gotta do is survive the adventure, and Braylar's temper to tell the tale.

Scourge of the Betrayer, the first installment in the Bloodsounder's Arc series, wastes no time getting rolling as Salyards drops the reader right into the head of Arkamondos.  From page one onward the reader experiences the novel through Arki's perspective, which makes for a very interesting read.  Though Scourge of the Betrayer seems like it would fall into the category of epic fantasy, the book has a very intimate feel as Salyards uses the first person perspective to give the reader an up close and personal view of the book's events.  Not only does Salyards achieve this through Arki's perspective, but also through his flat out brilliant descriptive writing.  The man does a wonderful job with his world building, or maybe more accurately, scene setting to the point where I felt like I could smell the blood, the mud, the beer...and the offal.  Though little of the world and it's settings, cities and regions are explored, those that were featured had a high level of detail and were places that brimmed with life and realism.

Not only did Salyards impress with his ability to give his story a strong sense of place but the people he populated his story with were impressive as well. Even though Arki, and many of the other Syldoon soldiers were impressively written and stood out as memorable, Braylar Killcoin sorta stole the show here.  Braylar is an incredibly interesting and mysterious character, and I found myself always wanting to know more about him.  Salyards does a great job of introducing Braylar, building him up, planting a few questions and seeds of mystery in the reader's head then slowly delivering the reveals as the book progresses.  That can't all be an easy thing to pull off, but Salyards does it in style.

Sure, I might have described this as "intimate" Epic Fantasy, but there certainly are hints that the events in this book will become threads in a much larger tapestry as the series progresses.  Strangely enough, even though lots happened here in terms of character development, world building, and story progression, Scourge of the Betrayer is a slim 255 pages. That's a page count that is almost unheard of in these days of giant cinderblock sized fantasy novels. Believe me, there is a lot of substance packed into the book here.  In fact, I'd say that there's absolutely zero fluff, or wasted pages here at all.  Instead, there's a great deal of efficient writing that doesn't waste time telling the reader what is going on, and instead shows in fantastic, in-your-face detail.

So, my gut reaction: Holy shit, this is an impressive book!  Scourge of the Betrayer has everything I look for in a book; great characters that I care for and want to know more about, a fantastic setting I enjoy, and a plot that captures my imagination, engages my mind, gets me to ask questions and yearn for answers.  This is one hell of a debut, and I can't wait for the next installment in this series.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A


Bryce L. said...

Wow. Just wow. I need to read this. I have it on the good ol' Kindle, but the time just doesn't seem to be there. :)

Ryan said...

Yeah you do. I'm pretty confident you'll like it.

Jeff Salyards said...

Thanks so much for the stellar review, Ryan. I'm thrilled you enjoyed the book.

Ryan said...

You're welcome Jeff! I'm excited to read more of the Bloodsounder's Arc series. Keep up the great work!