Book Review: Veil of the Deserters

Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards, Bloodsounder's Arc #2

History, Family and Memory… these are the seeds of destruction.

Bloodsounder's Arc continues as Captain Braylar Killcoin and his retinue continue to sow chaos amongst the political elite of Alespell. Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual.

The Syldoonian Emperor Cynead has solidified his power base in unprecedented ways, and demands loyalty from all operatives. Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict.

Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and his sister Soffjian lie at the heart of his plans. The distance between "favored shadow agent of the emperor" and "exiled traitor" is an unsurprisingly short road. But it is a road filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen.


Last year I was searching for interesting reads, I didn't have that many book to read yet and by chance I stumbled Jeff Salyards debut, Scourge of the Betrayer. I really liked the premise of the story with a cursed flail and a lot of action, only later to find out that there was a much broader - political - scope to the story. One thing where Jeff Salyards excelled in for me was how the story was told. Via the narration of a young and inexperienced scribe Arkamondos (Arki). This first person narration really made a lot of the elements of the book stand out, as you get to learn just how tough the life of Arki amongst these seasoned warriors and all that they had to go through. Jeff Salyards left his story open and I said that he was building up a certain tension in his story. When I heard the news last year about Night Shade Books I thought that the sequel wouldn't be published anymore but luckily it has arrived and Jeff Salyards really shows that he means business with his Bloodsounder's Arc. Scourge of the Betrayer was a solid start but with Veil of the Deserters Jeff Salyards has really outdone himself! 

The first thing that I noticed about Veil of the Deserters was the page count, Scourge of the Betrayer was about 250 pages but the sequel is almost double this. So I was in for quite a read, I actually wanted to spread this book over the weekend but found myself glued to the pages early on. Though it has been a while since I read Scourge of the Betrayer, just a few words in and I was comfortable with the writing style that Jeff Salyards uses in his books and the rich world wherein this story takes place. The writing style really works in the promise of the dark and brutal epic fantasy setting that Jeff Salyards creates. It has it's own definite flourish, in itself it's to the point and fast paced with the "sporadic" curse word thrown in the mix, in a way it's written with the deft strokes of dark fantasy. This really worked wonders for the book as I found myself finishing it within one single setting. 

The story of Veil of the Deserters picks up directly after the events of Scourge of the Betrayer. Arki is making his way across a fair and stumbles upon on rather horrific thing, one that he will be employing for their advantage only later on, yes Arki is growing up fast. Captain Braylar Killcoin is bedridden by being plagued by the memories in Bloodsounder. Soon though two old acquaintances from Braylar make an appearance, his sister Soffjian and her companion Skeelana who both are Memoridons. They bring message from the Emperor Cynead that they have been recalled to the capital of the Syldoon empire: Sunwrack. But before this can happen Braylar still has a plan of his own he still wants to capture a certain one. Added to this comes the fact that Braylar and his warband of Syldoon warriors are hostiles in the Anjurian Empire and their threat has to be eliminated... This is only the beginning of the story and later on when Braylar finally makes his way in Sunwrack and Cynead tells his history it goes from bad to worse. With the story of Veil of the Deserters Jeff Salyards neatly build on the world that was introduced in Scourge of the Betrayer but he does open one big flood gate of information, all to the better of the story, even more so is the way that the exposition is done, no information dumps but all in a natural story telling kind off way. I really have to give a big hand to Jeff Salyards and how he managed to take his story those giant leaps further. 

Scourge of the Betrayer introduced us to many solid characters, the cast wasn't immensely large, you could count the important ones on one hand. From those, Captain Braylar Killcoin and Arki really stood out as well as some of the other Syldoon warriors. In Veil of the Deserters the story is again being told from Arki's perspective. I already mentioned in the beginning that Arki was growing up with one tactic that he mentions to Braylar early on. Well this was just the beginning. In Scourge of the Betrayer, Arki was the rookie-green scribe never been on an adventure of any kind and now all of a sudden finds himself in the midst of the most barbaric warrior the Syldoon. Arki really undergoes one transformation from the naive young man to one who isn't afraid to speak his mind, well not completely yet, but he is getting their. The best thing here is that Jeff Salyards spreads his development over the whole book and not with a single happening. There are some crucial events where Arki has to choose for himself whats best, I really enjoyed reading these and could directly relate to how he must have felt in those situations. As for Braylar he is just the mean bastard that we got to learn about in the first book. BUT. there are some big revealings around his character. In the first book we had just to accept the mystical air surrounding his character but now finally we learn more and more about his past and how several things came to be, and Jeff Salyards also reveals more about the motives of Braylar. 

Now besides Arki and Braylar there are again several secondary characters that really leave a mark. For me they were the new introductions Skeelana and Soffjian. They were send in the name of Emperor Cynead. Both Soffjian and Skeelana are what are called Mermoridons (I will get to this in a sec). Soffjian is the sister of Braylar and it early one comes to show that several traits that run in the family. Though she doesn't tell much, her actions do speak for themselves and what it in the last chapter could mean? Now Skeelana offers a very interesting perspective, she is not the combat hardened one as Soffjian, she, just as Arki doesn't have that much experience at all. Something is happening between Arki and Skeelana, Arki isn't one to not ask questions when he is intriegued and by their talks you learn a lot about the Memoridons, directly to my pleasing as all this information then doesn't feel like a dump but the natural way just as I mentioned above. Next to Soffjian and Skeelana there are also the recurrent Syldoon warriors that greatly add their own mark to the story: Mulldoos, Vendurro and Hewspear. They do gain more foothold into the story, their converstations with Braylar and Arki, explaining several past events, and moreover they do help to embolden the attitude of the Syldoon's. Though they are painted as barbarians, when you get into their inner circle it's one brotherhood something that Arki experiences. 

Ok so for the Memoridons. They are one type of wizard able to play with you memory, well how cool is that! One scene of the book that I liked a lot was when the explanation comes that Memoridons don't act in the elemental flashy kind but with the focus of the mind can achieve their magic, silent and subtle and moreover quite deadly. They are able to project thoughts into the mind of another person, but these are far from simple projections. Mermoridons lift layers of the Veil... lifting enough of these allows you to see the truth and can drive the person insane. So as you can imagine this doesn't take away that the magic of the Memoridons is boring at all, no Jeff Salyards manages to inspire a certain awe around them, because they are the most powerful... and are feared by many. 

The ending of the story in Veil of the Deserters is exactly what I was hoping for. Political stakes have become clear and it's all running out of control. Even better is that by all the info that Arki has gathered from ancient scroll and shared with us that we have come to learn that there are a more powerful artifacts... 

Jeff Salyards has really surpassed himself with Veil of the Deserters. I thoroughly enjoyed his debut, Scourge of the Betrayer but with Veil of the Deserters he goes beyond everything I dared to expect for a sequel. Where Scourge of the Betrayer made us accept a lot of facts on the go, he know explains almost everything how it came to be and when you link events from the first and second book together it all become much more clear. Jeff Salyards further builds on his world by showing many different geographical locations and ofcourse the capital of the Syldoon. Added to this he introduces new characters like the sister of Braylar, Soffjian, and Skeelana her companion, who are both Memoridons, the second kind of magic that we get to see in The Bloodsounder's Arc. The concept of the Memoridons is very cool and comes to show that it is not something to be trifled with! And top it all off the characters. They are very intriguing and every character differs from the other, you can clearly see that Jeff Salyards has invested a lot of time in thinking about his characters and the development they undergo in the story. This all combined make Veil of the Deserters the perfect sequel; building on the existing world and introducing elements to take the story those steps further, but instead of taking steps, Jeff Salyards takes some leaps. I can only talk with praise for Veil of the Deserters, it's perfect. Having read it really made my day. Jeff Salyards shows that he has the skill, let's see where he will take his story next!  

Comments

  1. "I thoroughly enjoyed his debut, Scourge of the Betrayer but with Veil of the Deserters he goes beyond everything I dared to expect for a sequel."

    Precisely my thoughts. Scourge was a good book with an interesting narrative approach, but there was something lacking in it for me. Veil, on the other hand, was fantastic. I think any weaknesses the first book may have had are gone, and what we have here is a really solid piece of epic fantasy. Bring on book 3! :)

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    1. I completely second that opinion Bob! Bring on the next, ASAP!

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