Series: Bloodsounder's Arc #3
Published by Night Shade Books on February 16th 2016
While I enjoyed Scourge of the Betrayer, the first book of Bloodsounder’s Arc, it was Veil of the Deserters that really opened my eyes to what Jeff Salyards was capable of. Not only did it overcome the dreaded middle-book curse, it actually proved to be one of those rare sequels that completely surpass the first. I came away from it thoroughly satisfied, but also hungry for more.
That brings us to Chains of the Heretic, the third and final book of Bloodsounder’s Arc. Where that second volume expanded upon the world and the story of the first, this one rips that world wide open and shoves us headlong into a whole new heap of betrayals. More importantly, where that second book was a textbook example of how you build to a climax, Chains of the Heretic schools the genre on how you successfully deliver it.
Seriously, it is that good.
As much as I’d love to gush about what Salyards did with the larger storyline and the overall mythology, just about anything I could say here would constitute a spoiler. What I will say is that a lot happens in this book, and it all has significant consequences for our band of Jackals. Everything that was set up in the first two books comes to a head here, with all the dangling plot threads getting tied off – even if some of those knots are deliberately ragged and loose. This is not one of those perfectly tidy, happily-ever-after finales, and anybody who was expecting different clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Bloodsounder’s Arc was never about completing a quest, saving the world, or succeeding on some epic scale. It was always the story of one man, Captain Braylar Killcoin, as seen through the eyes of his company scribe, Arki (Arkamandos).
I’m not sure I’ve encountered any character in the last decade or so who grows and evolves as much as Arki. As character arcs go, his is so steady, so consistent, and so entirely grounded that you don’t really appreciate how far he’s come until you look back on the saga as a whole. Arki is the epitome of the average man. There are no hidden secrets or revelations behind him, and no cumbersome prophecies or destinies hanging over him. He’s just a lowly scribe, trying to fit in, and working hard to be accepted by a band of rugged Syldoon warriors. Don’t get me wrong, he has some significant moments in this final chapter – some worth cheering about, and others cringe worthy – but Salyards never tries to break him or to make him more than he was ever meant to be.
As for Braylar, his character arc was always set up to be that of the tragic hero, and he never shies away from what needs to be done. At the end of the day, even if he has some uncomfortable family issues, and even if he does wield a cursed flail, he is just another soldier. He’s not out for gold or glory, and he’s not looking to claim a throne or save a world. Braylar is there to do his job, and help return his deposed emperor to power. As we discover here, he doesn’t necessarily have to like the man or agree with his methods to do the job. His is not a story about ideals, but one of duty. There’s a lot in this final chapter than challenges our sense of wrong and right, and much that makes us question whether the end can ever justify the means, but Braylar remains the heroic figure around which the story turns.
Chains of the Heretic takes us beyond the shimmering Godveil (and back); reveals the origins of the cursed Bloodsounder; damages some characters horrifically; delves deep into the treacheries of the Syldoon Empire; exposes the roots of Sofjian’s loathing for her brother; kills other characters (some of them surprising); and makes us question every motive. It has its moments of black humor, and even a few fleeting moments of happiness, but by and large it is a dark and tragic tale. The action reaches a crescendo here, with some of the biggest battles (and biggest foes) we’ve seen yet. Salyards takes us across the world, and even if he leaves us cold and weary amid the carnage, we’re still anxious for the next campaign . . . should we be so lucky to return to his world.