I started listening to this just after I had finished playing The Witcher 2. It’s a game in a series based on The Witcher books by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski and developed by CD Projekt RED, a Polish game studio. It was a great game, but the main character is a uncharismatic misogynistic bore that women inexplicably throw themselves at. The main character in The Scar, Egert Soll, is very similar to this at the beginning of the novel. I, rather narrow-mindedly, was beginning to think this was an eastern European hero trope, but I’m happy to say that Egert ends up being a much more interesting and complicated character.
At the beginning of the novel, Egert is brash and unlikable. A high-ranking member of the city guard, and the best in town with his sword and throwing knives, he can essentially do no wrong. He has the respect of the men in the city and the lust of the women. This all changes when a scholarly woman comes to town and fails to be impressed with him, a small hit to his ego that sends him on an unfortunate path that ends with a scar across his face and a curse that renders him a complete coward.
The story takes place in a fully realized fantasy world, and has some great bits of action, but is mainly a story of a man trying to overcome and live with crippling anxiety. It’s somewhat slowly paced, but I never felt impatient with it. There are also some improbable plot developments, but they always felt natural. The characters really grow and change while you read. It’s a personal story in a traditionally epic genre, and it’s just really good story-telling.
I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I found the writing, and Jonathon Davis’ reading of it, really beautiful. There’s always the worry of a bad translation when picking up a novel from another language, but I thought this was translated from its original Russian brilliantly. I unfortunately didn’t keep track of the passages that really stood out for me, but the writing throughout the novel was both succinct and lyrical, and I was mesmerized from the very beginning. There was something new (to me) in the style, and I wonder if it’s a common rhythm found in Russian literature. I have shied away from The Russians so far in my reading, so I unfortunately wouldn’t know yet.
Marina and Sergey Dyachenko are a married Ukrainian writing couple, which boggles the mind somewhat. I think the only other co-operative novel I’ve read was Good Omens, and I don’t think Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman were married at the time. The Dyachenkos have written dozens of novels together, so it seems to really be working for them. I’m not sure how many are translated to English, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for them. This book is apparently the second in their Wanderers series, but it felt like a standalone novel. If I had to guess from the series title, the only thing connecting the two books is a mysterious stranger referred to as the wanderer who plays a key role in the story but isn’t involved much in it.
Recommended for anyone looking for an atmospheric and psychological fantasy story.