Upon completion of The Black Company’s 10 book series as well as the published works of Patrick Rothfuss, I found myself wanting more adventures told through the eyes of a chronicler. It wasn’t until I found myself searching amazon reviews that I came across Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, a gritty, fresh, and grand military fantasy story where the journey is just as important as the destination. Walking into a new land with and a dangerous group of mercenaries and a cut throat captain whom killed the last chronicler, what could possibly go wrong?
The main POV character we follow is the chronicler Arkamondos or Arki for short. He is young and ambitious scribe desperate to make a name for himself. Arki is tasked with documenting the exploits and missions of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors. Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Arki suspects that the stories regarding the Syldoon Empire may have been exaggerated with the test of time, but he may soon find out the truth can be far worse. Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men’s enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. Brayar is a secretive captain haunted by the memoires of those he kills with his deadly flail Bloodsounder. 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!
Ok, I know that was a lot, so let me walk you through the ins and out of Scourge of the Betrayer. Since Arki is our main POV, we are seeing the whole story through his eyes and learn the histories and tragedies of the empire and the mercenary group as he does. Arki doesn’t just write down the interactions of the group or stay to the side as an observant, Arki grows with the story and as he becomes more and more involved in the plot, the stakes are raised exponentially. Jeff Salyards knows how to write a compelling story which flows seamlessly from beginning to end with slow buildup the whole way.
For about 75% of the novel, Arki doesn’t know what the main mission of the group is and this is they type of story where it doesn’t matter. Braylar is driven to the edge of madness with the memories he is forced to relive and endure. He will need magic to heal his ailing mind, but time is against him. The journey, combat, and stories of his fellow soldiers is what makes the novel flow. When the shit does hit the fan, Salyards writes bloody, gritty, and painful scene that has lasting effects.
In short, Scourge of the Betrayer is a brilliant debut novel and worthy of the under the radar status. Fans of the Black Company and the Kingkiller Chronicles will enjoy this book, especially if grimdark scenes appeal to you. Sometimes the best books I find are the ones I have to look the hardest for. It makes the payoff that much sweeter with plenty of room left for dessert. Give this book a try if you like a story revealed to you instead of told and let the fun begin.