Rating: 5 out of 5
Let me preface this by saying that normally I like to sit on a book a few days before I review it. This allows me time to ponder the meaning of the story in greater detail, to mull over the finer aspects of the storytelling and decide whether my initial, guttural reaction was indeed true, or if I was simply caught up in the moment. Sometimes a book I loved will appear lesser after time, sometimes one I loathed will be struck with new meaning. This balance is what I seek and what this practice is for, to come from an objective place. However, as with most things of an objective nature, sometimes the emotion can be wrung from my explanation of it, due to both the time and that pondering.
So now I sit here, an hour past finishing “The Cost of Betrayal”, the second of the Half-Orc series by David Dalglish, and I want nothing more than to get my thoughts down on paper now. This is a work that is demanding of a highly emotional state, and it’s in my own, right now, that I honor it.
The story picks up where “The Weight of Blood” left off, in the aftermath of master necromancer Velixar’s failed attempt to destroy Woodhaven. The three partners-in-convoluted-crime – Harruq and Qurrah, the half-orc brothers, and Aurelia, an elven sorceress – are on their way back to Veldaren, the city in which the brothers grew up, on the streets and all alone. Upon reentering the city, they are immediately attacked, by a group called the Eschaton, a militia who protects the city for coin and favor. The way Dalglish pours you right into the action is admirable. He does it without missing a beat and without a ton of setup, which is appreciated.
The small group joins up with the Eschaton, and wackiness ensues. They encounter a plot by the local thieves’ guild and the battle scenes are epic. In fact, ALL the battle scenes are epic, extremely graphic, and skillfully presented, just as in the first book. You don’t get lost in the action and you actually care about what’s about to happen to the characters.
The funny thing about these battles, however grand they might be, is that they are overshadowed by the emotional threads that run through the novel. The relationship between Harruq and Aurelia grows by leaps and bounds, and Qurrah becomes obsessed with a strange and tweaked-out girl named Tessanna, who is possessed of power that not even she knows the depths. It is with these two relationships, mirrored against each other, that the bulk of the story grows and flourishes. More than in book one, the differences between Harruq and Qurrah are made that much more apparent by the way they relate to their loved ones. Harruq, though a big lunk, is thoughtful and caring. He listens and is willing to change. Qurrah, on the other hand, is fanatical, cynical, and unbending. He thinks he knows his place in the world and is not willing to alter his mindset…or his actions.
Though a work of fantasy – and a graphic, cringe-inducing work at that – it is this heart that sets this book apart from others I’ve read. The emotional and social threads that run through it cast it above the realm of high fantasy and into highly literary. There are so many issues presented, from racism (how well an individual can “pass” when partially of a lineage deemed unsavory) to the difference between love and fixation (how far will one go, how much will one sacrifice, to help out someone they care about) to the simple act of forgiveness (an example of which I will not give away, as it is the most powerful and gut-wrenching part of the book).
Yet despite all this, there is one theme that rises above all others: family. What does it mean to be family? Can there be family without blood relation? Can that family overcome the faults of its members, even if those faults endanger them? These were stunning revelations to read, and some of the more prophetic words and ideas presented left me with a gigantic lump in my throat. By the end of the book I was a quivering mess. I cried. I couldn’t help but look at my own family, pull them in, and tell them how much I loved them. I thought of the actions of those involved in this yarn and wondered if I would be able to be as forgiving as they were. That is what I found surprising. Almost every character in these novels is a highly flawed individual. They perpetuate horrible acts and seek no clemency. They murder and maim because it’s their job, and they refuse to apologize because that is the state of the world they live in. And yet, through each of them runs a deeply emotional center, a potential to love and be loved that they wish to feed and encourage. There is change, and as I said before, there is forgiveness, and we the readers forgive right along with them. We do this because we recognize the power they hold, the love they are capable of, and when one treads off that path, we shake our heads in pity. We want them to succeed, to overcome whatever demons have befallen them, and it actually HURTS when they fail.
This is a deeply sad book. And it is poignant. I couldn’t put it down. It is painful, at times, to take in, and yet you can’t stop. It makes you FEEL and THINK, and that is, besides pure entertainment, the reason most of us read in the first place. For this, David Dalglish should be commended. I do not speak in hyperbole to say that this is one of the four or five best novels I have read IN MY LIFETIME. It has everything one would want in a book. It takes you through the roller coaster of sensations – from hopeful to despaired to overjoyed to, finally, broken – and spits you out on the other side shaken and thankful for what you have. You laugh, you cry, you ponder. This is truly an accomplishment, and one that should not be overlooked.
Yes, “The Cost of Betrayal” is that good. I dare anyone to read it, to take it in, to relish it. The mistakes in the writing from the first book (which weren’t that noticeable to begin with) have been remedied. What remains is a tale of such power that you have no choice but listen. Carnage and conflict aside, as some might not welcome them, there is too much here to not appreciate it.
This needs to be read. It needs to be out there.
And with that, for the emotions I feel, I give the author two simple words that I think say everything.
Plot - 10
Characters - 10
Voice - 10
Execution - 10
Personal Enjoyment - 10
Overall - 50/50 (5.o/5)