The story picked up immediately after the end of the first book and there is no time gap whatsoever here. The book starts as if it was a simple chapter transition after the last chapter of the first book. Theoretically, Veil of the Deserters is a book that’s superior—and I think the majority of readers will feel this way—compared to the first book. All the foundations laid in the first book, this book built upon them and almost everything exploded here. However, after finishing the book, I can’t seem to decide if I truly loved this one more than the first book or not because although the majority of this book is undoubtedly better, there is one minor gripe I have with this book that the first book simply did better. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great book but I’ll get into why it didn’t receive a higher rating further down below.
“There would probably be far fewer conflicts in the world if we all made more efforts for clarity of communication.”
Speaking of improvements, the most evident improvements in this book definitely lie within its story line progression, world-building and lore revelations, and great characters’ development. Even though the majority of the book was spent on traveling and skirmish battles, none of them ever felt boring. Believe me, this isn’t like Robin Hobb’s Assassin Quest where the characters traveled excessively long for no good reason. In fact, Salyards brilliantly use the traveling section by implementing compelling dialogues and tons of revelations surrounding the world and story line. It's in these sections where readers will get the most out of the world-building, lore progressions, and character developments; there's no wasted section here. Plus, I also love how behind all the politicking and world-building, the author raised the question of “If your act of kindness backfires on you heavily, resulting in more casualties, will you still do it?”
“There always seems to be an 'until'. That is one of life's harsh lessons.”
Without spoiling anything, the characters’ development was written exceptionally well; the two main character—Arki and Braylar—were ridiculously good. Despite being so deeply involved with the Braylar Killcoin and the Syldoon now, I love how Arki never forgets his nature and capability as a scribe.
“I would never be a man of martial prowess, or wealth or power, or even an important one in most circles. But if I could uncover some treasure in the midst of all those pages, then, for the moment at least, I would be worth, practically invaluable.”
I need to talk a little bit about Braylar because he's such a fascinating anti-hero. His background revelations were easily one of the strongest aspects of this book and it all adds up to bring more complexity to his personality. However, the main highlights of this book will have to be the world-building and the Memoridons, which is the memory witch who’s capable of using memory magic. The inclusion of the new two side characters—Soffjian and Skeelana—were a true delight to read and a seriously badass female characters, especially Soffjian. Unfortunately, can't say more because it would spoil things that readers definitely should find out for their own good.
Lore and the world-building revelations truly explode here. Unlike most second book in a trilogy where authors the book simply as a setup for the last installment, the author took a completely opposite route. There are so many revelations, new pieces of information, and Salyards didn’t forget to prepare more plotline to be resolved in the last book. Religions, Syldoon politics, the Bloodsounder (Braylar’s sentient and cursed flail with the face of the Deserter Gods), everything simply came into play in this great sequel in a very balanced combination and well-paced manner.
Finally, this is a grimdark military fantasy and although not epic in scale, there are a lot of details on the weaponry, armors, and battles ranging from the skirmishes, siege, or the rarely used but fantastic memory magic. Admittedly, as great as the action scenes were, this is where I had a bit of a minor gripe with. In my opinion, the battle scenes in the first half somehow weren’t as captivating as the first book. This is most likely just my own problem. In the first book, I was completely glued to the page every time the actions happened. In this book, I sometimes felt like there were a few moments in the first half where the action sequences happened a bit too frequently that the quality of the battles diminished in impact. This is personally just my opinion though and I imagine the majority of people who loves reading detailed military fantasy will enjoy this part more than me.
Just from having finished the two books in the trilogy, I can already say that this trilogy is just so damn underrated. It baffles me to see how few the amount of readers who have read this trilogy. This situation probably happened because Salyards took a gamble with the storytelling direction of the first book but seriously, I think grimdark readers ought to give this trilogy a try at least up to this book; rather than stopping simply after the first one. The trilogy has been pretty solid so far and Salyards has set up everything for the conclusion greatly. I’m going to continue to the third book—Chains of the Heretic—immediately and find out whether the last book will be able to conclude the trilogy on an even more positive note.