Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards(Bloodsounder’s Arc #1)

Scourge of the BetrayerScourge of the Betrayer is the first of the Bloodsounder’s Arc series by Jeff Salyards.  I really enjoyed this I have to say although when it comes down to writing a review I confess it’s quite difficult.

The story follows a relatively small band of characters, soldiers, on something of a military adventure.  We get off to an immediate start and learn in relatively short order a few of the key characters and what they’re about.  Arkamondos (or Arki) is a scribe.  Having lived the majority of his, albeit short, life in relative comfort chronicling the narratives of merchants and other people lacking in excitement he takes a job that he believes will make his name.  His new employer is the head of a bunch of Syldoon soldiers who are about to embark on  a mission and Arki is about to go on an adventure.

We start the narrative in an inn where a number of the key characters are introduced as they exchange banter.  And, let me just say that these are a bunch of lively characters who are not shy of a bit of creative cursing – you have been warned!  Now, I understood on picking this up that this was going to be dark fantasy but after the first couple of pages I was wondering just how grim and dark this would really become, in fact I momentarily had doubts as the start of the book really does set its stall out quite early.  However, a few pages later I found myself pretty much intrigued and compelled to read.

I can tell you absolutely nothing about the plot whatsoever and the reason for this is twofold.  First, and most obvious, I don’t want to give away spoilers.  Secondly the plot is revealed as the story progresses.  Basically we learn what’s going on through Arki and as he’s kept in the dark by his new boss then we are also pretty much kept in the dark too.   When Arki learns something – then so do we and sometimes it’s a while before the information is forthcoming.  That isn’t to say that nothing happens however – in fact far from it.

This is a very character led story and for the length of the book I would say it packs in an incredible, not to mention surprising, amount of worldbuilding.  The characters primarily consist of the following.  Arki – and I must say what a clever device for an author to use!  Arki is bookish, well read and studious.  He’s setting out on an adventure with a bunch of reprobates but in actual fact he’s far from rough and ready himself.  How cool is that really.  It feels like, as a reader, I almost have an affinity with this guy already!  Don’t get me wrong, I love to read about action and adventure but in this respect all the events are chronicled by Arki and in such a way as to tell you how terrifying it all is in vivid detail.

We also have the surly and little spoken Captain Braylar Killcoin.  Braylar is a fascinating character who I really enjoyed reading about.  He’s a no nonsense, surly, rude and quite violent character.  He carries a flail (although it isn’t naturally his first weapon of choice and the reasons do become clear as you read) and this flail seems to be, well, I’m not sure how to describe it really – magical? Possessed?  Anyway, let’s just say that this weapon seems to lend Braylar certain abilities.  However, it certainly doesn’t make him invincible and it’s a bit of a double edged sword as it also ensures that he’s haunted by his memories.  The compelling thing about Braylar – well, you’re sat on the edge of your seat waiting for him to tell you something and he shares information quite grudgingly.  Also, he’s written in such a way that you like and dislike him, then like him again, etc, etc, as the story progresses.  On top of this we make the acquaintance of some of the other soldiers but for me the other character that really stood out was Lloi.  Lloi has a lot of mystery in her life and I really enjoyed the scenes in which she took part – she just has a way of looking at things that is quite refreshing.

To be honest I would say that this book is more about the journey than the destination and I really do say that in a good way.  We spend quite a bit of time in the company of Braylar and Arki with the occasional appearance of Lloi and during that time we really get to see the characters develop.  This is particularly true of Arki who ends up surprising himself towards the conclusion of the story.

I think the writing is very enjoyable and the author manages to throw mystery, battles, strange creatures, shrines and other encounters along the way.  The final reveal is definitely intriguing and actually incredibly gripping.  In fact I reached a point where I actually wondered if anybody was going to survive!  Anyway, enough of that – no spoilers.

I think my only criticism was that the ending felt a little rushed compared to the rest of the story.  That being said I have No.2 lined up already and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.