The first three pages of this chapter (not that it’s formally split up by the book, but you know what I mean) are about Captain Braylar banging the barmaid he saved from the boorish soldiers earlier, while the scribe viewpoint character is sleeping in the other bed in the same room. This puts me in a difficult position: We’re getting to the point where I should probably put a moratorium on criticizing this book for its over-enthusiasm with how cool Captain Braylar is, but if I do that there is nothing left to comment on.
It is worth noting that the way in which Captain Braylar is built up isn’t as juvenile as you’d expect from a book that just can’t stop talking about how cool this character is. Like, at some point the barmaid gets nervous about potentially waking the viewpoint scribe up and asks to stop, and Captain Braylar stops and gets agitated with her and throws her out. This is not how the scene would go in a typical Mary Sue wankfest (no pun intended), which would not have tolerated anything stopping its protagonist from conquering a woman, and indeed would have gone on for ages about how satisfied she is. But while the squeeing over Braylar’s awesomeness is much more competent – it attributes the woman’s shyness to circumstance, thus keeping Braylar’s sexual prowess unblemished, it has Braylar respect her wish and thus firmly establishes that he’s not a sexual predator, but it also has him react with agitation so as to firmly establish his dominance – the fact that the narrative is doing nothing else but go on and on and on about this guy makes it just as Sue-y as a more straightforward gushing. Jeff Salyards – our author – is clearly demonstrating that he could write a good story, but that he just doesn’t want to.
Then, on page 36, the plot finally arrives:
I sat up and put my feet on the floor. “It’s not yet dawn. Why must we—”
“They’re coming. We don’t have much time.”
I pulled my tunic and trousers on. “Who? Who’s coming?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, pulling on the other boot as he hopped to maintain his balance, adding, “I wish I had time to shit.”
“If you don’t know who it is, how do you know we need to go? I don’t—”
“Violence is coming, Arki, coming fast. I don’t mean to be here when it arrives.”
I say the plot arrives, but it’s actually not clear. The intruders aren’t here for any of the Syldoon. They’re here for some random patrons, and this is mainly relevant because they’re overstepping their traditional jurisdiction. Ordinarily, this inn would be under the Hornmen’s jurisdiction, but apparently the mysterious black-coated soldiers are now permitted to make arrests in any jurisdiction they like pertaining to “matters of sedition.” Now on the one hand, this book is called “Scourge of the Betrayer” and a kingdom is a thing you can betray, probably as a result of some amount of sedition.
On the other hand, we’ve had thirty-six pages of Syldoon worship, with the occasional promise that a plot would at some point emerge, but no actual plot points to be found. So is this scene of black-coated soldiers arresting traitors actually plot-relevant? Or is it just the setup to another scene where the Syldoon do something the author thinks is super cool? Certainly it doesn’t end in the Syldoon wiping all the soldiers out, but that kind of amateur hour “win by means of plot armor” thing is clearly below Jeff Salyards’ level anyway.
After the soldiers have left, though, we get this exchange:
I looked down the railing, but the Hornmen had disappeared back into their rooms. Hewspear and Mulldoos walked over. Braylar turned to them, and twitch-smiled. “You see? Our timing will be perfect.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but clearly the other two did. Hewspear said, “The baron does seem to be ferreting out treachery in all corners.”
Which is what makes me reasonably confident that this is actually the plot, and not just a random event before the caravan moves out the next morning.
Said caravan is actually splitting up. Braylar, Lloi the nomad, and the viewpoint scribe are escorting a wagon with plenty of supplies and some mysterious but valuable cargo, while the soldiers are going off to some other place. Apparently the soldiers need to move fast and the captain and his entourage need to move undetected. The viewpoint character hasn’t been clued in to what’s actually going on here, and on the one hand, that the viewpoint character doesn’t know means that we don’t need to know to understand his thought process. He is the viewpoint character, so he’s the only one whose motives we need to understand for the story to work. I often criticize stories for making me wonder what’s going on at the expense of what’s going to happen next, and that’s not what’s happening here, because I know exactly what’s going on: The viewpoint scribe is going on a journey he doesn’t fully understand.
However. This mystery device still has two potential problems. First, this scribe fellow is coming across a lot like a deuteragonist narrator, someone whose purpose in the story is to give the audience a viewpoint, but not to particularly participate. If that’s the case, then it’s Braylar we need to understand, and we don’t. If the scribe ends up with more of a character arc, then this won’t be an issue, but it’s not obvious if that’s the case.
And second, there’s still the problem that hanging onto a reveal builds up anticipation as to what the reveal will be, but not knowing anything about this world, I can’t imagine anything that would actually matter. If it’s the royal seal of a kingdom that would grant whoever found it legitimacy to take the throne, well, great, but that’s a totally random example guess and I have no idea if such a thing exists in the world of the story right now, so if that turned out to be the reveal, it would mean nothing to me without explanation. By the time you get to the end of the exposition, the moment has already passed. This problem can also be solved, provided that whatever the big reveal is, the story has given me enough context to understand it instantly when it happens.
So, as I said, there are still two potential problems. I don’t know if Jeff Salyards will sidestep them both, because while he’s got demonstrated skill with characterization and even some decent world-building, his plotting has been so lethargic that it’s hard to tell if he just really likes a slow start or if he’s completely aimless. Definitely the pace would lose a race with a snail even if you made the snail use the outside track and also it was dead. After fifty pages, the only plot development following the raid on the inn at the beginning is that they are now leaving town. Multiple pages are spent describing the traffic on the way out of town. It’s kind of evocative and all, but with how much space this book has already spent, it’s starting to feel incredibly decadent, like you could compress this book down to a short story of 50 pages or less and lose nothing. Maybe the pace will pick up later, but right now, 50 pages in and we only need about 10-15 of them: Enough to establish the Syldoon, and then the raid. Making the assumption that the raid turns out to be plot relevant.
We get another scene break at page 51, and I’m going to take the opportunity to call it for now, but starting next post I may start covering 50+ pages at a time, just because there is so little to comment on.