Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

9/10 A solid first entry in a new series.

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!

Scourge of the Betrayer is Jeff Salyards debut fantasy book. In his day job Jeff Salyards is a book editor for the American Bar Association and the first thing that came to me while reading Scourge of the Betrayer was the level of writing. I have read a fair share of debut novels and some of them are, based on writing style, a bit of a struggle to get through. I must admit that I did not have any trouble with Scourge of the Betrayer. It reads as it is presented to you - on a platter. The story does not yet cover a lot of ground with regards to the world, but what is being told is very engaging and a sound basis for this first book. It is very, very interesting.

In Scourge of the Betrayer you are first introduced to Arkamondos - shortened to Arki for the remainder of the story. He is young, naïve, and tasked with recording the tale of the (in)famous Syldoon soldiers. Arki is enlisted, or rather picked out of necessity, by a group of Syldoon soldiers lead by Captain Braylar Killcoin, however, Arki’s introduction to this “barbarian group” is not without its own hackles. Like I mentioned, Arki is pretty naïve and he shows a display of young boy innocence in his doings. His previous work has included, among others, a job as a baker so writing up war efforts in the company of Captain Killcoin is, let’s say, “new” for him. Arki’s world is changing by the minute. He goes on exploring, asking questions to get to know more about the Syldoon and their customs, but as he learns he starts to realize that he might be getting much more than he first bargained for. For Arki there is no way back, and though he accepts this fact readily, he does not stop contemplating it.

Next to Arki, Captain Braylar Killcoin is the other lead character of the story. He is brutal, vicious, ruthless, and, when time allows, quite funny too. Braylar is a Syldoon, and the reputation associated with being a Syldoon directly influences his character. He is set with a task for the Emperor and does not waste one moment in achieving this. Though he is loyal to the Syldoon Empire, he does some unexpected things that do go against his nature. There was also a nice feature about Braylar nearing the ending of the book revolving around his relationship with Lloi. Now I do not know if this was intended to turn out that way but for me these scenes truly completed Braylar's character for me.

In the beginning there are several things that happen that raise a few questions about several of the characters, mainly Braylar, that leave you thinking ‘hmmm’. When the answers to these questions are finally revealed it was an “oh yes!” moment. I do not have them that often, but it happened it brought a big smile to my face.

There are a lot of things that I like in fantasy and Braylar's flail Bloodsounder just got added to my list. Now it does stands to question, what more is there to Bloodsounder that we don’t know? We get to learn about its past and the things it does - which is to say the least is quite impressive - but there has to be more! With the series called Bloodsounder’s Arc I do hope so.

What was great about the writing of the book itself was the narration. The majority of the story is being told through the eyes of Arki himself and how he perceives the world and the events that occur. Next to this you have the dialogue between Arki and the other members of the team. I really enjoy a good story being told from the first person perspective - it just adds so much more depth and produces a truly engaging story. This is something that Jeff Salyards nails spot on.

Scourge of the Betrayer is a rather short read with only 253 pages. In these pages Jeff Salyards does manage to put down a great story. The story of Scourge of the Betrayer goes about sowing discord, and although I haven’t yet seen much of the political influences in the world surrounding Scourge of the Betrayer, I do get the feeling that it is slowly building up towards a clash between kingdoms. As a whole this first book feels really like an introduction to the characters Braylar and Arki, along with a bit of the Syldoon empire and their goals. I think that Jeff Salyards has created a solid first entry in a new series. There is much richness hidden within this book that I am not going to tell you about – you will have to experience it for yourself.

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