Veil of the Deserters review

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Veil of the Deserters is the second book in the Bloodsounder's Arc, a series by American Fantasy author Jeff Salyards that started with a bang with the fabulous Scourge of the Betrayer back in 2012, my best new author/Fantasy debut for that year. Could Jeff pull it off a second time in a row?
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.
Veil of the Deserters picks up right after the events of Scourge. Arki, the young, impressionable and now road-weary archivist seems less enthusiastic to dig in with the deliberately baffling Syldoons focused on their mission but is now considered as part of the implacable group. Muldoos, one of the Lieutenants under the rigid but effective command of Captain Braylar is always making sure that Arki remembers he's not a Syldoon while keeping him safe with his more altruistic companion Vendurro since he now has more value than being a simple chronicler. With new company from Sunwrack, the center of the Syldoon Empire, right on their toes and more Hornmen on their trail than they care for, the band is in dire need of the help of Memoridons, mostly for Braylar's sake.

With that introduction, I was able to present the new developments that clearly enrich the experience of Arki, and ours, in this second opus.  The narrator situation is evolving fast and with a new job of translation looming ahead, courtesy of Braylar, the unattainable mysteries of the Syldoons and of the stern Captain's cursed weapon are now within his grasp. In Scourge, Arki was already a competent and compelling figure to host the narrative.  In Veil, he simply lives the arduous and precarious adventure with as much vertigo, dread and giddiness as he can muster, for my greatest pleasure.

Salyards's previous novel was leaning toward the short side and while it opened many threads of interest and kept the lid on many cryptic elements, it might have benefited from deeper exploration of the themes that made it special, namely so, grief in many a form and the aftermath of violent battles with all the discussions, theories, effects in can have (for more insight on Jeff focus on grief, read his guest post called Grieftongue here). However, as I mentioned in the review, Scourge is an interesting premise or prologue and the proposition that is Veil is delivering on all counts, it's even upping the bar.

Moreover, I wanted further insight into the magic system embodied by the Memoridons and the whole memory-centered concepts and I was more than satisfied.  In the aftermath of the events at the end of Scourge, the Syldoon troops in Alespell are now short of helpings hands in the consciousness dabbling department. Who then can deliver the knowledge without dumping the information like a school teacher while making Braylar's life and mission more complicated and delivering the recall order for his company which will possibly render several years of hard work futile? None other than the Captain's sister and her small accomplice. The position in which the protagonists now find themselves couldn't have more ambiguous and convenient both at the same time.

I mentioned that info dumping wasn't a result of the presence of the two Memoridons but there are still some heavier passages. Nevertheless, with Arki's curiosity and ignorance in the matter and the recurring absence of the two women, the flow of information is kept short and fascinating. Nicely done Mr. Salyards!

Next on the list is the "origin story" of Bloodsounder, Killcoin infamous weapon. In this case again, Arki is privy to detailed explanations granted by the need for his skills in deciphering old texts. The state of the world and the disappearance of the gods are even mixed in with this, finely expanding on the mythology, theology and geography (I'm looking at you the Godveil). Add to this the reason behind Emperor Cynead recall and you get a storytelling explosion. The last chapters are simply amazing.

What else is there to consider?  The author writing feels even more intuitive and competent while retaining the straightforward aspect and atmosphere we witnessed in Scourge, all for the greater benefit of the delivery of a first person perspective.  The descriptive aspect of it makes the world more vivid than most authors can achieve and the battles scenes could only be praised for a second time around. I was there even if it was not always easy to witness it. Simply a great story, with fascinating themes, meaningful characters and close combat action aplenty.

Cover: The Night Shade Books cover by Micheal C. Hayes is nice but I would have liked a gloomier art style...
Release date: June 3rd 2014
Map: Yes! Hurray!
Number of pages: 448 (hardcover edition)
Acquisition method: courtesy of Mr. Salyards publisher - NSB
Other: No appendices, dramatis personae or glossary

I liked...Was disappointed by...
The themes explored (especially grief in various aspects)Some short moments of pace slowing
The detailed action sequencesA bit of info dumping
Arki's recounting
The story new direction
The worldbuilding explosion

Veil of the Deserters review rating :


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