A young scribe rides along to chronicle a band of soldiers as they set in motion their secret (and apparently devious) plans.
Very strong writing; character development; strong mystery surrounding the soldiers’ plan; intensity of battle scenes
A bit slow; the ending fails to complete the story and instead feels more like a set-up for book two
Scourge of the Betrayer Review
When I think of an epic fantasy series, I picture several novels, all with 800+ pages filled with a huge cast of characters, plenty of action scenes, and plot points that come at breakneck speed. Jeff Salyards’ debut fantasy novel, Scourge of the Betrayer, might just change my impression of what epic fantasy can be.
The narrator, Arkamondos, is a young writer who knows little about the world beyond the horizon, but he soon gets a taste of war as he’s brought on to chronicle the exploits of a band of Slydoon soldiers, led by Captain Braylar Killcoin. The innocent writer is sucked into a mysterious plot quickly realizes he’s in over his head.
The first thing I noticed when reading Scourge of the Betrayer is how caring and precise Salyards is with his language. He proves quickly that characters are more important than action. Thirty pages into the story and the band of warriors are still at the inn where we meet them on page one. But those thirty pages pulled me into the group as if I were one of them. And while not overwrought with action, there’s plenty of tension, drama, and mystery to go around.
The relationships between the characters feels true, and to some degree, their relationship with Arki adds a sense of fun to the story. For example, Killcoin is the brooding leader, which plays well off of Arki’s naiveté. There are many moments when the two clash, with Killcoin wishing weak little Arki knew how to fight, and Arki wishing Killcoin would order them flee instead of fight.
While the care Salyards takes in developing the characters is appreciated, it does slow down the story. I was okay with that for the most part because there’s enough action or mystery to keep the story going, but several times I found myself hoping that some exciting event or major plot point was coming soon.
The pacing might be a little slow, but the battle scenes are intense and have more impact because Salyards took the time to develop the characters. And there’s so much detail. At times, it was as if I could feel the blades of grass and hear the sounds of Killcoin’s flail as it spins and wreaks havoc on the poor soul who stands in its way. There are plenty of fantasy novels with fast-paced action scenes, but few are as vivid as those in Scourge of the Betrayer.
The climax of the book left me wanting more, however. It’s the first book of the Bloodsounder’s Arc, and thus sets up additional books in the series, which I’ll be excited to read when the time comes. For now, however, I wish this first book felt more like a complete story.
Jeff Salyards’ debut fantasy novel is very well written, and the character development alone makes for a gripping read. However, the story moves slowly, and in the end, it feels like a fleeting introduction to a much larger story. For those looking for fast-paced fantasy action, you won’t find it here. Scourge of the Betrayer is a good not great novel, but it certainly lives up to the epic fantasy label. I have a feeling that upcoming chapters in the Bloodsounder’s Arc series will prove that book one is a great introduction to a spectacular series, even if it does take several books to start paying off.