Thursday, April 2, 2015

Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards

Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards is the second book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc published by Night Shade Books. My review of the first book, Scourge of the Betrayer, can be found here. Veil is that rare sophomore effort, second in a trilogy no less, that is better in all respects. Veil also gave me a newfound appreciation for Scourge and appreciation of Salyards’ abilities as a writer. Veil’s success lies in two key areas: the narrative structure and the tight focus on the characters. This produces another lean novel with great tension that is chockablock with great dialog.

Veil’s narrative structure, and the series by extension, is really good on a number of levels. The great sense of tension is the the most visible result. Salyards keeps the tension tight via the narrative structure through a series of continually escalating conflicts. Every fight is a little bigger. Every town is a little bigger and more mysterious. Every secret is a little more jaw dropping. As a result, every page turn builds expectation, and delicious tension, as you wait for the next reveal.

Veil also has a clear beginning and end. I would argue it is nearly a stand alone title. Yet, Veil expands the world of the Bloodsounder’s Arc considerably. In this way, Veil clearly avoid the trap many ‘middle volume’ books fall into -- being little more than filler before the finale in the third book. This sense of focus, possessing a clear start and finish, also keeps the narrative from wandering around and introducing pointless details, filling the pages up with exposition that adds little to the story. The book is charged with a satisfying vitality and identity that is often missing from the second installment in a trilogy.

The pages are full of dialog-- wonderful, vulgar, hilarious, and heartbreaking dialog. It is hard to overstate how great the dialog is in Veil. At a superficial level, it is simply brain candy. But, the conversations shine in how well they advance the plot, reveal the world, and develop the character. Salyards has an uncanny knack for employing it in a way that feels organic, avoiding the dreaded ‘voice-over’ quality that afflicts so much fantasy. This dedication to dialog ultimately helps draw the reader closer to the characters especially when combined with the first person perspective.

The first person perspective, via the scribe Arki, was a quality I very much enjoyed in Scourge. It continues to be a strong point in Veil. What I found very successful and satisfying is Arki’s evolution. Page by page, Arki is slowly adopting the mannerisms and customs of the Syldoon. It is fascinating watching the delicate restraint employed by Salyards in this long-play plot device. In my review of Scourge, I praised it as a means to create a relatable buffer between the reader and the Syldoon. By slowly evolving Arki, Salyards is bringing the reader closer to the Syldoon and by extension, the ultimate finale and conclusion to the series.

What is did not find satisfying in Veil were Soffjian and Skeelana. The characters themselves were interesting, I just wished there were more involved in the plot during the beginning and middle segments of the book. For the majority of the book Soffjian and Skeelana are primarily tools to advance Braylar’s and Arki’s characters. They are obviously going to be very important in the next book but in Veil, contribute little.

Overall, Veil of the Deserter’s is a great book and one of the best fantasy titles I have read in the past year. Veil eschews elaborate world building, complex magic system, and convoluted plots and instead focuses its efforts on characters and dialog. Along the way, smart choices on narrative structure create a lean, tense, satisfying reading experience that is easy to recommend to anyone. I eagerly await the concluding volume in the Bloodsounder’s Arc, Chains of the Heretic due in February 2016.

Night Shade Books: Veil of the Deserters
Image Source: Night Shade Books
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN: 978-1-59780-491-2