Jeff Salyards’ BLOODSOUNDER’s ARC is a fantasy series in the gritty vein: harsh and bloody, though with a bit of humor mixed in. Veil of the Deserters, its second installment, is an interesting blend of political maneuvering and realistic tactical combat in the era of swords and crossbows.
Arki is the historian/scribe for the company of Captain Braylar Killcoin from the Syldoonian Empire. Momentous events have happened in the previous book as CPT Killcoin and his soldiers continue their mission to create chaos in the city of Alespell. For Arki, it’s a culture clash; his background as a highly educated archivist gives him a very different perspective on life and death than the members of the Jackal Tower who employ him. Arki must learn that mercy and justice often have no place in the murky, violent world in which he now lives.
Salyards’ world-building is fascinating. In describing the nation of Syldoon and how its soldiers are recruited, trained and organized, he paints a complex picture of a country that exists for conflict, victory, and conquest. The penalties for failure are enormous, and the rewards for success seem almost paltry to our eyes. I loved reading about it. It would make an incredible strategy game pitting one tower against another and letting the planning, plotting and talents of the tower commanders lead to destruction or glory.
Captain Killcoin is a prickly, unpredictable commander of an elite group of Syldoon soldiers. Salyards depicts a powerful camaraderie among the soldiers, in events such as the delivery of money by a loyal friend to a newly widowed wife of a Syldoon soldier. The rift between Captain Killcoin’s troops and the Memordians, magically talented augmentees assigned to the same Tower, further shows the loyalty that the soldiers have to each other. When even the people who are supposed to support you are a threat to bring you down, you have to learn to trust deep and hard with the people who really have your back.
Veil of the Deserters also chronicles a continued evolution of the world, as the former gods have left. There are many references to why, and there is still even a functional religion with powerful clergy to reckon with. Exactly what the religion’s dogma is, and how they fill the void left by the gods, is something of a mystery, and there are still many reminders of what once was. The Godsveil between this world and another is one example. Magical artifacts, like the flail named Bloodsounder that Captain Killcoin wields and suffers tremendous side-effects from, are yet another.
I liked Veil of the Deserters quite well. The characters are salty, rough around the edges, but likeable. The organization and detail of the Empire of Syldoon is well thought out and fascinating. So, even when the story occasionally gets bogged down or the main character makes dumb choices, the story holds the reader’s interest. A gritty, harsh world exists between the pages of Veil of the Deserters, and if you can stand some rough language and realistic combat, then it’s a very good book indeed.