jueves, 17 de mayo de 2012

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest that you read this review while listening to "The Bard's Song" by Blind Guardian (Spotify link, Youtube link).

Scourge of the Betrayer, debut novel by Jeff Salyards, is the kind of book that shouldn't have worked for me. I usually prefer science fiction over fantasy and, when it comes to fantasy stories, I like them with a lot of magic and dragons. In Scourge of the Betrayer there are none of the latter and only hints of the former. However, Salyards's wonderful prose and masterful storytelling made this book a pleasure to read.

In Scourge of the Betrayer we follow Arkamondos (Arki, for short), a young scribe that has just joined a band of Syldoon soldiers in a mysterious mission. Arki's peaceful life is about to go head over heels. He will have to confront raw violence, moral conflicts and terrible decisions as he has never seen before. And we will learn a thing or three in the process...

There is much to like in Jeff Salyards's first novel. The dialog is sharp as a crossbow bolt. The prose is almost perfect in tone, with descriptions that have just the right amount of detail, as corresponds to the tale of a scribe:
"I didn't solicit you because you're the most sublime scribe, and I didn't hire you because you're the most lyrical; the bargain was struck because you reputedly miss nothing. It's said you're perceptive and quick. I want you to get it all, and you claim you can do this thing. So... miss nothing".
And, in fact, through the eyes of the naive (sometimes too naive) Arki we will get to know the secondary world in which Scourge of the Betrayer takes place and the many fascinating characters of the novel. Precisely, the character development is the strongest point of the story, especially in the case of the secretive Captain Braylar Killcoin. When we first meet him, it seems that he is going to be just another cold and cruel soldier, a walking cliche:
"But Braylar had his long dagger across the soldier's throat, a full mug of ale in his other hand. Braylar lifted the mug very slowly to his lips, and took a long swig, eyes never leaving the Hornman."
However, there is much more to him than that. He is cold, yes, but mostly for practical reasons and not for lack of feelings. In fact, we soon learn that Braylar is, indeed, a haunted man (in more than one sense):
"But when you lose something that can never be replaced, and more particularly, someone, then you'll know grief, true grief. The kind that tortures and warps and threatens to destroy, the kind that turns your insides to ash, that draws you toward madness or your own death. This grief will never leave you, ever".
One of the many pleasures of reading Scourge of the Betrayer is discovering the mysteries surrounding Captain Killcoin and his relationship to Bloodsounder, the flail that gives name to the trilogy (and that is depicted in the wondefurl cover of the book), so I'll reveal nothing else here. Suffice it to say that Braylar Killcoin is one of the most fascinating characters I've found in a fantasy novel recently and that you'll find yourself admiring him despite his many dislikable traits.

Salyards also has an uncanny talent for writing action and fight scenes. Although some of them are dozens of pages long, his prose is always clear and precise. And though he doesn't fear showing the consequences of violence, gory details included, the narration is always striking and even beautiful. It is hard to believe that this is his first novel. Most authors usually need several books before they hone their writing skills so perfectly.

On the negative side, being this the first book in a planned trilogy, some of the parts of the plot and some of the fantasy elements are not fully developed yet (for instance, I would have liked to know more about The Godveil and the Memoridon magic). We will have to wait until the next installment, which still has no release date as far as I know, to learn more about how things turn out. Also, some of the mysteries are revealed in the dialog of Arki with the Syldoon soldiers and that had a feeling of infodump to me. I think, though, that this was intentional, because of Arki's role as scribe of the group.

All in all, I highly recommend Scourge of the Betrayer to fantasy fans in particular and to those that love a good book, in general. I don't think I will be mistaken if I say that this novel is called to be one of the debuts of the year and yet another success of the Night Shade Books New Voices program.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)

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