Scourge of the Betrayer – Jeff Salyards

About the book

Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies–or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon’s dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he’s about to find out for himself.

Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men’s enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he’s killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe . . . and Arki might be next.

Archiving the mundane doings of millers and merchants was tedious, but at least it was safe. As Arki heads off on a mysterious mission into parts unknown, in the company of the coarse, bloody-minded Syldoon, he is promised a chance to finally record an historic adventure well worth the telling, but first he must survive the experience!

A gripping military fantasy in the tradition of Glen Cook, SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER explores the brutal politics of Empire–and the searing impact of violence and dark magic on a man’s soul.

320 pages (hardcover)
Published on: May 8, 2012
Published by: Night Shade Books
Author’s webpage

This book was sent as a review copy by the author


In almost every gritty fantasy novel I’ve ever read I always reach a point where I think, “Okay, I understand that this character is the most supreme badass individual to ever be dredged from someone’s imagination, and while their supreme badassness cannot be overlooked, can we please get on with the actual plot already?!” While my cynicism toward much of urban fantasy is pretty well known, a much quieter factoid regarding your beloved bookworm is that I am just as cynical regarding gritty fantasy. Look, the honest truth is, I read books for plot and I often feel that an author of a gritty book forgets that while they regale their readers with supreme badassness and incredible showers of blood. And, hey, I have absolutely no issues with blood, sex or violence. I do have issues with plots being ignored so the author can show how incredibly hardcore their characters can be.

That being said, you can imagine how leery I was when I started reading Scourge of the Betrayer. Even the title screams gritty fantasy and it doesn’t take much reading to realize that Salyards himself doesn’t shy away from blood, battles and various other hardcore things of that nature. The difference between Scourge of the Betrayer, and the other gritty fantasy that just ends up annoying me, is that Salyards actually tells a story, and his protagonist, Arki, isn’t badass in the least. He’s a scribe; a scholarly guy who would probably be more at home in a library than in a battle.

That being said, there is plenty here that screams grit, from the fast paced (and often times) bloody action, to the cast and crew of war veterans and soldiers and plenty other tidbits. However, that isn’t the whole of it. Salyards tells the story from the first person perspective of Arki, who spends a fair amount of time observing rather than anything else. In my experience, the first person perspective is unique to this sort of book, and the story being told from the perspective of a scholar rather than a sword welding badass who is jaded with the world is also incredibly distinctive. Arki’s perspective is tinted with a bit of innocence that actually caused Scourge of the Betrayer rather refreshing and helped it stand out from all the other gritty fantasy books that seem to test my patience more than anything else.

Another difference is how Salyards introduces the plot to his readers. Most books are rather up front about what to expect from the book (the end goal, who the main characters are, etc) but Salyards leaves that up in the air. Arki is introduced to the reader while he’s being introduced to his new employer. He doesn’t really know who anyone is, much less the end goal of his adventure, and Salyards lets the reader enter the book with the same amount of information as his protagonist. This could, for some readers, be a little confusing and disconcerting. There are some terms thrown around as Salyards introduces new countries, cultures and clashes to the readers, but it’s nothing that a little time getting comfortable with the text won’t sort out.

There really isn’t much in the way of world building. Maybe that’s due to the fact that Scourge of the Betrayer is told from a first person perspective, but despite all the terms readers will have to be familiar with, there aren’t many vivid mental images that accompany them. Depending on the reader this could be a strength or a weakness. Individuals who are into really character driven stories will probably not mind the lack of world building, but if you are looking for something a bit broader in scope, the lack of it might annoy you.

There is more here than meets the eye. Scourge of the Betrayer starts fairly slow and it does take some time to fully grip the reader, but the action is nearly nonstop, and the grit is plentiful, which will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie and his ilk. The refreshing perspective of an unsoldierly scholar is incredibly unique. While there are some issues with world building, and some readers might take issue with the perspective the story is being told from, there is plenty here to celebrate. Scourge of the Betrayer will thrill fans of gritty fantasy and will firmly show that Salyards is an author worth watching.

4/5 stars

4 Responses

  • Thanks, Sarah!

    I’ve been thinking about adding this to Mount TobeRead, having talked to the author a bit virtually and hearing positive things about the book. Also, the concept sounds appealing to me.

  • Hmm did it get eaten?

    • BookwormBlues

      Nope! After being inundated by bots I changed my settings so comments have to be approved.

  • Thank you for the very nice review. Given that this isn’t your preferred cup of tea, I’m even more thrilled with the high marks. 🙂

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