I started reading Scourge of the Betrayer with an open mind. My friend invited me to a book signing last week. It was compelling to listen to Salyards talk about his process of writing, and what it took to get this debut of his onto bookshelves. I'd heard it was a great read, but I was worried I wasn't going to like it. I'd have to tell my friend it sucked, or lie; neither outcome so comfortable.
Quite the opposite! I believe my reaction was "Holy expletive, he can write!"
I delved into the first couple of pages and dropped right into the story, captivated by the turns of phrase, descriptions, dialogue, and entertaining characters. Those are the elements that are most important to me, so I'm not asking for much. I mean, I'd previously read a few sci-fi/fantasy efforts that were just ridiculous, like the author felt he or she had to recreate the entire world or it didn't count. Binstavalerd is chair, and mugstobbabeast is horse. Plus no one has a mouth and everyone talks and eats through their belly buttons...AKA umbillipieholes. Sort of similar to going to IKEA, but no cheap bookcases.
Salyards, on the other hand, immediately drew me in with the opening sentence's description of Captain Braylar Killcoin, as seen by our narrator, Arkamondos: "dark hair slicked back like wet otter fur..." I know exactly what that looks like. And hey, I like otters.
Arki is a young scribe hired to take us on a mysterious journey, recording the deeds and misdeeds of the Syldoon soldiers. We don't know much because Arki doesn't know much. We listen, observe, and get a feel for place and personality. We learn as he learns. I wasn't overwhelmed with epic worldbuilding, or turned off by a bunch of weird crap thrown in for effect.
Another description, besides wet otter fur, that captured my imagination introduces Glesswik: "a long face, splotchy and deeply pocked as if it had been set on fire and put out with a pickaxe."
You're thinking about that right now, aren't you? How could you not? It's brilliant. And funny. There's a lot of unexpected humor throughout the book, though it's certainly not a comedy.
So, through Arki's narration, we get to know this small band of soldiers, the merciless Syldoon, that are on a questionable mission. There's a package. What's in the package? Where are they going? Why? I was antsy to know, and pulled along by the easy flow of a natural storyteller. The characters really struck me, especially Lloi, Arki, Braylar and super crass Mulldoos. The economy of words and characters really impressed me; it was all sculpted precisely down and no blathering on about nonsense. There was a lot of violence, foul language, gallows humor, and even some supernatural in there to keep it lively.
Braylar's flail is bad (expletive), for sure, and I'm looking forward to learning more about it in the next book, as well as Braylar's relationship to it.
As the story unfolds, it also gains focus and intensity. We gain a more clear picture of Braylar's path; we see Arki grow and evolve. There are emotional twists that paint the world through showing, not telling, and which flesh out the characters richly.
When it was done, I was already looking forward to the second installment, which is bothersome because it won't be out for another year. Write faster, Salyards. No pressure.
I highly recommend Scourge of the Betrayer to others. I enjoyed it thoroughly.