söndag 30 september 2012

Scourge of the Betrayer

Jeff Salyards with his Scourge of the Betrayer has been touted as a future star in the gritty fantasy genre, even mentioned as an heir to Glen Cook. I'm beginning to feel a bit trite with whoever's making these comparisons, but I guess the joke's on me since I keep falling for it.
I'm not saying Scourge of the Betrayer is a bad book, and I'm not saying Jeff Salyards is a bad writer, but to me the style and story feel pretty far off from Glen Cook and his work. Apart from having a narrator and a first person narrative but I'm sure there are others out there like it.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it irritates me some because I expect high paced, direct and brutal fantasy and get a well-planned story-telling approach to the whole ordeal. It's not really a negative side but I'll warn people to take the Glen Cook with a healthy dose of salt.
This is Jeff Salyards debut novel in the fantasy field though, and a fine one it is. The worldbuilding hasn't picked up full steam yet, but you get bits and pieces to show you forward and there's plenty of groundwork made for book two.

Salyards' story is a traditional build-up with the main character, Arkamondos, a wide-eyed youngster bored with his life as a quiet scribe who signs on with a troop of Syldoon mercenaries to see the world and get out of his mundane life. As the mercenaries' mission slowly unfolds Arki, as he is called, gradually feels more and more out of his depth. In a way it feels like a classic farm-boy story, the difference being I can't see Arkamondos finding a magic sword to whisk him out of trouble.

Most of my previous patrons could hardly stop their mouths - they regaled me with mundane minutia and inane stories, most of which involved the glories of mercantile conquest. Hardly riveting, but it was why they hired me. Pollus the apothecary, old wheezy Winnozin the priest, Nullo the foul-mouthed (and foul-smelling) tanner, Lektin the pinched-faced banker. Dull and duller, the whole lot. Even the Lady Anzella, who inherited her husband's shipping business after the plague took him, and managed not only to keep it afloat, but to make it thrive... beyond the novelty that she was a woman entrepreneur and a scuccesful one at that, she was just as mannish in her ability to bore a person to tears.

Captain Braylar Killcoin is an intriguing character slowly unfolded before Arki, and the reader, and we slowly learn more about his legendary Bloodsounder and it's impact on his life. It's a great concept, and a good read that's slightly reminiscent of Elric and his Stormbringer. The Syldoon that he command are a great lot of elite warriors being used as mercenaries in the neighbouring kingdoms, and their relations and dialogue within the group makes for a great read. The Syldoon are a feared people hired for their ruthlessness and effectiveness in battle but as the story goes on it's more and more apparent that the Syldoon have an agenda of their own, dragging young Arkamondos into the middle of mysterious plots and counter-plots leaving him scrabbling for firm ground.
The characters aren't really developed that much since this, the first novel, only stretches for a brief period of time. Salyards shares the trait of many of his contemporary writers in his, if not eagerness, then at least willingness to kill off many of the more central characters without much apparent sentimentality.

Being touted as the re-inventer and new poster-boy for the gritty realistic string of fantasy and being compared to great writers like Glen Cook, Richard K. Morgan and Joe Abercrombie lends to understandably high expectations. I'm not sure Jeff Salyards is quite there yet, he's not quite the finished product and he is still working on the world-building and development of his characters. He's got a fair bit left before I think he'd motivate comparisons to the above mentioned as his general style feels more like traditional fantasy. The combat-scenes are gritty and realistic but I think Salyards story suffers a bit from using young Arkamondos as the focal point. He's not a strong enough character to shape the writing, and his convictions colour too much of the story, at least to me, if he is to be compared to the likes of Abercrombie, Cook and Morgan whose writing is defined by a prominent touch of moral ambiguity, which in itself leads to a darker and bleaker world.

That's not entirely Jeff Salyards' fault though, it's not him drawing comparisons to great writers, but his writing is quite capable of standing on it's own though and it's a fine debut indeed. I just think he comes off lacking when you compare him to writers as direct and focused as the above. He is doing very well in setting up events for book two in the Bloodsounder Arc, and with the world-building on it's way as well I think he can continue to build on this in the way Daniel Abraham has with his Dragon's Path. It will be interesting to see where Salyards will take the still innocent and wide-eyed Arkamondos as the pace picks up and more pressure is applied to the Syldoon.


REMINDS ME OF: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham in what feels like a more traditional fantasy set up with a lot of groundwork being made in the world-building and setting of style and mannerisms of characters and settings. Some strong points in the action sequences but a need to show more to justify a higher RMS. It's still a good read.

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