Brandon Zarzyczny's Reviews > Scourge of the Betrayer

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards
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Aug 26, 2012

it was amazing
Read from February 27 to March 07, 2013

I really loved this book, and it's probably one of the most original fantasy books that I've ever read. The world itself is relatively bare-bones, but the style of story telling is amazing. My only real problem with the book is that it's relatively short, and because of the nature of the character narration/perspective the story is very limited. The main character and only viewpoint is that of a relatively helpless scribe that is hired to chronicle everything that happens with the company of soldiers. The whole story is told solely from the limited perspective of Arki, who becomes a great viewpoint character that maximizes the reader's immersion into the world and story of The Scourge of the Betrayer. There really isn't a lot of heavy world building, there are a few slightly forced but quick info dumps. However they are explained by the fact that Arki has led a relatively sheltered life and likes to ask a lot of questions.

The chronicler Arki is a very interesting character, an intelligent and talkative but shy young adult that grew up as a bastard from a Tavern Barmaid and an unknown rich man. He is very self-conscious about his upbringing, but he strives to make something of his life after he graduates from a University that was paid for anonymously by his absent father. This is the impetus for him accepting the contract from Captain Braylar Killcoin, a job that has very limited details, other than knowing it was very likely to be dangerous. This is where the story of Scourge of the Betrayer begins, the start of an adventure that will lead to many deaths, some of whom may be the main characters. There are very few featured characters for most of the book even though it features a company of soldiers, and they vary from being very quiet, to having bursts of talkativeness. The three main characters had a very interesting rapport, where they seemed to really like each other at times, but at the same time there was a certain amount of separation and animosity between them. The relationships just felt very real and different, and even the less important characters all have strong relationships with certain of their other companions, that mostly occur off the pages. The nature of it made the story feel very intimate and different, and the whole time I felt very close to the main character, especially with how the reader and Arki know very little about what's actually going on. The reader and Arki really don't learn about most of the actual plot/intrigue of the story until after the climax, when Captain Killcoin actually trusts Arki. This makes for a very unusual story, but it feels incredibly realistic, something that isn't common in a fantasy novel, or most books of any genre. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that even though most of the plot is explained near the end, the reader still doesn't know if the Syldoon Company are the good guys or the bad guys.

For the world building, while this is a fantasy world, magic plays a very small role. From what is present in the book, it seems to be a mostly mental magic with a strong focus on memory. There are a group of sorcerers that can change remove memories, and it is rumored that they can stop people dead in their tracks, but they aren't featured at all in this book. There are also rouge untrained mages, one of whom is the crippled Grass Dog companion of Captain Killcoin. She uses her limited abilities to strip from Captain Killcoin's mind the stolen memories that plague him after he kills using his cursed flail. The flail's heads are in the likenesses of the Deserter Gods, and they warn the Captain whenever violence and bloodshed is coming his way. The source of the weapon's powers aren't really explored, and all the reader and Arki really knows about the cursed flail is the Captain dug it up from the ground previously, and he can't get rid of it unless he want's to face a painful slow death. Apparently, at one time the world featured in Scourge of the Betrayer had multiple real Gods, but about a millennium ago they deserted the world for unknown reasons. The only sign that they ever existed being a magical veil that stretches across the country and leads anyone that gets too close to their death. The land in the book isn't too well described, but that's explained by the fact Arki isn't very knowledgeable about it. Essentially though, the company of soldiers featured in this book are from the Empire of Syldoon, whose power was originally gained by a bloody emperor that built an army of slave soldiers abducted as children. However, at the present time in the book the Syldoon forces are more of a normal but still brutal and efficient military force. Companies of Syldoon are sent around the world with various goals, and they all must include a Chronicler that's supposed to be impartial to allow the Empire to keep track of all of their actions. The country that this book takes place in is ruled by a Child King and multiple power hungry Barons, other than that very little is described.

The writing was probably my favorite aspect of this book, as it has a great flow that makes it tough to put down, and the action is among the best that I've ever read. The perspective is a little different, as of course Arki is usually just the spectator of the multiple battles in the book, though he does slightly participate at times. There is a slight inherent weakness as he can only focus on one fight at a time, and it can appear like he must be frozen in place doing nothing so that his viewpoint can describe the main action. Still, I really loved the realistic and high tension action, even more so as the main weapon is one I've really never seen used in a fantasy novel, a flail. I've just never really considered the effectiveness and purpose of a flail before reading this book, and all of the action really showed a depth of knowledge of that martial art style. The flail is used in so many different ways, from intentionally having the chain be blocked by the edge of the shield allowing the flail heads to crash into the vital organs of the opponent, to using it like a whip to crush the armored skull of the Captain's opponent, or even flinging it out in a jab. Some of the fights are quick and brutal, but others are wars of attrition when Braylar Killcoin goes against talented well armored enemies. The battles were so thrilling and entertaining that I almost wished there were more of them, but then if there had been it's possible that none of the characters would have been alive by the end. I also like how crossbows are used in the book as a great equalizer when they are otherwise outnumbered, and the actual mechanics the Captain teaches Arki about them are incredibly described in depth. It all just reads like the author has an intimate knowledge of all of the medieval weapons and armor featured in the book that allows Salyards to craft intense battles featured in this book.

So overall, I really loved Scourge of the Betrayer and I would highly recommend it, especially if you're looking for something that's different from the normal epic fantasy novel.
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