A Total Inability To Connect

Scourge of the Betrayer - Jeff Salyards Writing: 4.5
Story/Plot: 4
Depth/Detail: 2.5
Enjoyment: 4.5

I wasn't totally positive what to expect going into Scourge; I've seen reviews pointing both directions, from spectacular to lackluster. What I found was somewhere in between those, but much closer to the spectacular side, in my opinion.

The story is a first person tale, from the POV of Arki, a scribe, who is hired by a band of Syldoon soldiers (a foreign kingdom to his own) to document their doings. He is lead on a brief adventure, following them across country where they're attacked at seemingly every turn, and Arki is forced to defend himself and his employers, adapt to life on the road, and experience gruesome injuries and battles for the first time. We are privileged to travel through his thoughts, his reactions and visuals, his decision making processes, his fears and doubts. It's a rather intimate view, and a skittish scribe is a great viewpoint for a group of hardened soldiers and their exploits.

The story leads from a small inn (where they encounter trouble), to their travels (where they encounter trouble), to the big city they were destined to (where they encounter trouble), and finally through a plot to trick two sides (the church and the barony) to turn on each other, causing discord in the region for the purpose of furthering the Syldoon stance and prevent the king in the region to rise to power, which would be unbenficial to the Syldoon. This plan, of course, turns on them and leads to, you guessed it, trouble. There is a brief amount of magic, mostly revolving around the Syldoon general's weapon, which he is bound to, predicts violence, and causes physical terrors to the general for every life he takes with it.

The brief use of the magic is a theme for the book - brief. The world is not explained much. The scope of the story is very small, a very small area, very small group of people. Very small magic scope. Very small character development scope. The book is short, down and dirty, quick to points. Which in itself is not a bad thing. It leads to a lack of immersion for me (and I assume some people), the type of person who likes to get involved in the world, enjoy the history, the magic, the politics. Scourge skips this in favor of focusing on personalities, on character drama, on intimate battles and internal thought processes. And honestly, it's kind of refreshing. The disappointment in the lack of depth is that I WANTED that depth, because that tip of the iceberg that is given to the readers is fascinating. I want to know more about the kingdom, the politics, the Syldoon relationship with Arki's kingdom, the magic, the races and class system and merchant trains and the Godveil and all the other things that are alluded to, mentioned, featured or shown, but in a limited capacity. I WANT more. Salyards is such a tease, omigosh.

The writing itself is pretty splendid. The dialogue is visceral, real, to the point, and is used very well. The characters are distinctive in their speech patterns, use of words, tone, style. The battles are exciting, well written, very gritty and realistic and gruesome, without being overly gory. The gore is there, it's described well and in detail, but not gratuitous. Not overdone. It was handled expertly, in my opinion. Arki's internal (and external) reactions are great, totally relatable if you're someone like me who is not a strong-stomached folk and don't handle gore well. There were a few spots that made me scratch my head a bit. One such situation was a fairly cringeworthy spot near the beginning, where sex is occurring in Arki's room, and he's laying in the dark thinking about his arousal and how he'd like to touch himself. Maybe realistic, but extremely awkward to put into the book.

In the end, I truly enjoyed this book. It started a bit on the slow side, but it picked up quickly, and was a rollercoaster emotional ride through to the finish. The world that is hinted at in the book is intriguing, and I want to know more, experience more in this world, these characters, their quest to complete their mission. I want to know more about why Arki was required to come along with the Syldoon, what politics in their world caused the mission, the scribe, the deceipt. So many questions left unanswered that I'd love to see completed in future books.