The Scar is one of the most original and most intriguing fantasy novels I've read in quite some time. It's a shame that the cover blurb tries so hard to compare it to the likes of Robin Hobb and Michael Moorcock, because the comparison really does the novel a disservice. I love them both, but they are truly unique authors with a style that's almost entirely their own. If you make the mistake of reading The Scar with those expectations, you're bound to be disappointed. However, if you go into it expecting only that Sergey & Marina Dyachenko will deliver a uniqueness that's all their own, you'll come away entirely satisfied.
Considering this is a novel that begins with an entirely unlikable protagonist - rude, crude, brash, arrogant, condescending, and pitiless in his casual disregard for the feelings of others - it's surprising that the read so immediately captures your attention. There's not a lot going on in the opening chapters, but the writing is so fluid and poetic, and the characters so well established, that you find yourself drawn in. This is a world that's dark and bleak, with a shadow of gloom that hanging over all, but it's also one in which people can be good or bad, not because of their environment, but in spite of it.
The speed and depth of Egert's fall from grace is almost as stunning to behold as it is chilling to experience. I can honestly say I have never before seen an author do such a compelling job of detailing a character's rank cowardice. To see the fearless, arrogant young captain reduced to whimpering against the coming of night, fainting from a fear of heights atop his horse, and nearly soiling himself at the slightest sound outside his door, is stunning. By the time his cowardice is exposed to those around him, and Egert is quite literally shamed out of his home, you're beginning to feel sorry for taking such delight in his comeuppance.
Really, above all else, this is the story of Egert's fall from grace, his grudging acceptance of his new place in the world, and (ultimately) his hope for redemption. Had this been a typical fantasy novel, that redemption would likely have come about halfway through the story with the breaking of the curse, sending a once again brash young hero out to avenge his fate. Instead, Sergey & Marina leave their protagonist to cope with his bleak situation, with only the beautiful Toria around to provide any semblance of hope or joy. I honestly wasn't sure, until the very last page, whether or not Egert would ever find redemption, and I loved that uncertainty.
A few brief words on the lovely Toria - while it's initially a little too convenient that the same woman who gave Egert reason to deserve the curse should also give him reason to escape it, the connection between the two develops naturally throughout the novel, entirely justifying the cycle they represent.
Given all the mental and emotional turmoil, and the focus on Egert's cowardice, the climax of the novel could not have been better played. Shadowy cults, the threat of the black plague, double-crossing deals, and blackmail all add up to a situation that would test the best heroes, much less one so cursed by his own words and deeds. Definitely one of the most satisfying conclusions to a novel I've read in quite some time, it's also an ending that's as unique as the The Scar itself.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins