“Scourge of the Betrayer”
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Review copy received through the courtesy of the author, Jeff Salyards
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!
Today an increasing number of sources of information can lead a reader to plenty of new emerging writers and new books to be found, but the same sources of information might not facilitate a simple choice for the said reader when it comes to give the new authors a chance of reading their works. From my personal experience sometimes the choice depends heavily on the instinct. And it was my instinct that pushed me towards the debut novel of Jeff Salyards, “Scourge of the Betrayer”.
With the novel pretty much a mystery for me before I started to read it I found myself in the same spot after the first couple of chapters. Engulfed in unknown. But Jeff Salyards’ debut novel has enough elements in the beginning to encourage the further exploration of “Scourge of the Betrayer” that I was compelled to continue reading it despite the fact that no specific path or direction could be seen. This sounds very much like a negative observation, but in the end it is actually not because once the reader reaches the second part of the novel things get a contour and the events start to follow a certain line. As a matter of fact it becomes quite clear that “Scourge of the Betrayer” is an introduction to a series of novels and to a larger story and a wider branched plot. That is not to say that the novel has no purpose besides its precursory quality, a plot raises its head from it, but it also leaves an appealing tail hanging for the series to pick up and twist and resolve in the next installments.
That is not to say that “Scourge of the Betrayer” is a frontispiece with sole purpose of alluring readers to buy the next installments of Jeff Salyards’ series. It is a preamble for new events but with plenty of action and intrigue on its own. Three displays of smaller or larger size of vividly described action scenes throw the reader in the middle of the battle. Stories of past heroics and adventures shade a dark feeling over the novel. In fact, the entire “Scourge of the Betrayer” is charged with a dark atmosphere, a match for the ruthlessness of some of the characters and described through violent behavior and language, foul and messy settings and a misplaced etiquette. It is not a novel that favors easily offended sensibilities.
As much as I found myself in the middle of an enigma I discovered that I was not the only one. Arkamondos, one of the main characters of Jeff Salyards’ “Scourge of the Betrayer”, is in the same situation as the reader. He cannot get past the mystery surrounding his new employer, his company and their course of action. But for Arki, the short for Arkamondos, and the other characters of the novel this secrecy works in the fullest. Because Jeff Salyards not only that builds powerful characters, but also a stronger group. To a certain point the characters of “Scourge of the Betrayer” reminded me aplenty of Sven Hassel’s band of brutal and expendable soldiers. Arki cannot break into the Syldoon group of soldiers, but through his eyes we can see the level of camaraderie and the tight bond between the characters led by Captain Killcoin. Not even the end of the novel brings the full acceptance of Arki. Jeff Salyards built a very convincing group. But he also built distinct individuals. From all of the characters, however, Arki, Captain Braylar Killcoin and Lloi stand out and get the most of the attention of the author.
What it’s valid for the characters doesn’t extend to the world-building. Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing, because after all there is a sense of a world to the setting of the story. I believe that Jeff Salyards focused his efforts in the creation of the characters and the band of Syldoon soldiers more, but he did not neglect their surroundings entirely. It is true that sometimes the reader gets to see more details of inns rather of the cities in which these are found, but there is a placement for the events. The geopolitics of the setting is described in enough points of the novel to create a contour for this world. Also local hierarchies, religion, customs and behaviors are mentioned in plenty of occasions to create a stage for the events of “Scourge of the Betrayer”. Add to this a nasty piece of weaponry that involves a level of magic but which is yet another mystery that needs to find its answer in a sequel of Jeff Salyards’ debut novel and we have a full frame on which the setting to be further constructed.
Overall, I got the feeling that Jeff Salyards’ “Scourge of the Betrayer” is more than an appetizer, but not quite a main course. It is a story that oils the gear for the entire machinery to reach full speed in the upcoming installments of “Bloodsounder’s Arc” series. And I’ll make certain to be on board when it starts accelerating.