When I finished Veil of the Deserters, I declared loudly on Goodreads "Damn that was good!", going on to describe it as “one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a quite a while.” And after a few weeks to mull over my initial reaction, not only do I stand by those words but confidently anoint this book the best fantasy I’ve read this year. So let me explain why you should get on board this fanboy train and start loving Bloodsounder’s Arc too.
In book one Scourge of the Betrayer, Mr. Salyards introduces his readers to the young, scribe Arki, who accepts a commission to record the exploits of a group of foreign soldiers. He believes it will be a break from his dull life chronicling the exploits of self-aggrandizing merchants and petty noblemen, but he might not have known everything he was getting into, quickly finding himself neck deep in secret, political intrigue. Plus, his employer, Captain Braylar Killcoin, seems to be possessed by a cursed flail that bombards him with the stolen memories of those he slays in battle. (Not that Arki is complaining out loud about false advertising or anything.)
From this unique “embedded journalist” beginning, Scourge goes on to weave a textured, realistic, and complex tale of Arki trying to survive in this brutal world of war and intrigue. Quickly, he begins to become desensitized to the violence around him (though he isn’t comfortable with it) and is forced to acknowledge the brutal pragmatism of many of the heinous deeds Captain Braylar and his soldiers practice routinely. And through the simple process of not dying and not betraying his wary employers, he gradually is taken into the inner circle of the Syldoon warriors; something that finally allows him (and the readers of Scourge) to start to understand all the things going on in the story.
Now, I realize some readers were put off by book one due to the slow developing story. (Even Mr. Salyards has acknowledged in interviews that he understands this criticism of Scourge.) But where book one laid the foundation for Arki and Captain Killcoin’s tale, Veil of the Deserters unleashes it in its full glory.
The plot and character revelations come fast and furious in book two. We learn more about Captain Braylar and his mysterious flail; more about the personalities and history of the Syldoon warriors surrounding Arki; and more about the immediate schemes and the long term ones that have lead these elite warrior to spend years away from their northern home.
Deeper world building. Where there were merely a few brief glimpses of this interesting fantasy world in Scourge, here there is so much more revelations about its nations, their history, the mysterious Godveil, the world before the Deserter gods abandoned mankind, and Captain Braylar’s cursed flail’s role in it all. Each piece of lore fitting seamlessly with the next until a vibrant, living world slowly begins to grow before a reader’s eyes.
Realist battles continue – only they are bigger and more frequent. And when I say realistic that is what I mean. These are not Hollywood movie fights, where the hero kills twenty people without a scratch and without getting one hair out of place. Nope, Mr. Salyards carefully crafts well-thought-out and organic fights, where armor matters, numbers count, and the realities of brutal men hacking at one another with sharp edge instruments of death are not glossed over. Not to say that Veil of the Deserters is a gorefest, because Mr. Salyards doesn’t overdo the blood and guts, but rather that he shows the realities of war in a medieval-type setting. People die hideous deaths. Those that survive may be horribly wounded or maimed. And those that escape with their life are scarred by the experience of dealing death and find themselves grieving over their own dead.
Creepy magic users. In Scourge the magic was rather sparse throughout and spoken of in whispers by everyone, but in Veil the Memoridon make an early appearance and are major players in the whole book. And somehow, Mr. Salyards is able to reveal enough about the memory witches to make them understandable but not totally stripping them of their mystery and inherent creepiness.
Kickass female character. While this is a testosterone driven series, Captain Killcoin’s sister Soffjian is introduced and holds her own against all of the brutal Syldoon warriors – instilling instant fear in all but the strongest men. Plus, she is a Memoridan, which only makes her that much more interesting.
Syldoon political machinations. Oh, yeah, readers get to go back to the capital city of the Syldoon Empire, experiencing all the brutal scheming of the warrior elite of the world, and through this change of scenery, Mr. Salyards sets up book three of the series, which looks to be a great one.
So after hearing all the great things about Veil of the Deserters and Bloodsounder’s Arc, why are you still reading this review? Go buy book one, sit down for a nice, intense read, get the world and the characters in your mind, then plunge into Veil where the story catches fire. Look forward to talking to all of you after we read book three next year! (Next year, right, Mr. Salyards?)
The publisher and the author provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.