Fantasy Review: ‘The Scar’ by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko

Sometimes grabbing things off the shelf randomly pays off.  Sometimes translations are done seamlessly.  Sometimes collaboration’s don’t completely suck.  Sometimes the guy behind my computer screen doesn’t have a damn clue how to open a review.

Perhaps with comparisons to other well-known fantasy works of recent history?  I guess I could try.  Egert has the wit and brains of Locke Lamora combined with the arrogant assholeness of Jezal dan Luther… Scratch that comparisons are no good if everyone doesn’t know the source.

Well hell, I have been on vacation for a week, I am taking the lazy way out and opening with a summery.  Egert is living the good life in the elite guards.  Perhaps not loved by all, but certainly the man many aspire to be.  He has a way with the ladies, more talent than he knows what to do with and an almost unquenchable thirst for thrills (with no problem risking the lives of others to satisfy his thirst).  We first meet him engaging in a barroom knife throwing contest; using a young serving girl to hold his props.  A short run of his exploits are given, many resulting in him making a fool out of someone else while basking in his own glory.

So it continues when Egert notices a pretty young student visiting town with her fiancé.  Always wanting what someone else has he pokes and prods until the young man feels compelled to challenge Egert to a duel.  When the duel ends the visitor is dead in the street, fiancé Toria is crying, and a mysterious stranger remembers Egert’s face.  When this wanderer leaves a mark on Egert’s face in a later duel the book takes off.

Take a look at what the authors have done here.  A thoroughly unlikable character without being a complete psychopath.  Not an antihero, we are not supposed to like him.  Not a villain either, no cheap clichés are employed to make us hate him.  No murders, tortures, rapes, or cussing out of elderly in his path.  Instead we see a realistic bully, high on the praise he consistently gets, who’s ‘crime’ is seen as completely defensible by the laws he has grown up with.

So when this unlikable man is marked by the wanderer the change we see is shocking.  Our brash lead character is suddenly unlikable in a completely different way; a sniveling coward.  Which is more horrible, the death he caused?  Or pushing a woman out of a hiding place as he dives into it when the bandits come?  It will be a long path to get back what he once had.  Along the way he will fail test after test, including some particularly cruel actions made by former friends.

Egert’s possible redemption story is only half of the book though.  That fateful night didn’t just affect him and the dead man; a young lady watched her life plans changed completely with the thrust of a sword.  Toria also falls into the lowest point of her life.  Of course she eventually meets Egert again.  Of course their story becomes intertwined.  To speak of it would spoil half the book, but be sure it was moving.  Sacrifices must be made by both, lives are saved and bonds are made over the worst of starting circumstances.  Toria’s arc never over takes Egert’s, but rather than playing second fiddle it eventually merges into one cohesive story.  Very well done.

In the background of this story of redemption and rebuilding is an interesting fantasy backdrop.  A cult makes a major power play.  A lone mage uses everything he can to stop some serious forces.  And the Wanderer comes back for a rare ending that both does what I was hoping but surprised me in how it was done.

A real gem of a story found by accident, smart and full of heart, and recommended for anyone looking for a fantasy outside the norm.

4 stars

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