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The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko – Review
Lord Egert Soll is a brash, confident member of the elite guards of his ancient, glorious, and militaristic city, Kavarren. He is also a notorious philanderer, taking pride in making cuckolds of every other man in Kavarren. Yet he is looked up to by most of the men and women in Kavarren, and fathers often point to Egert as a shining example to their sons of what a real man is like, and want their boys to grow up to be like him.
Egert has his good qualities: he is fearless in battle, he is brave and takes risks, and he is often chivalrous. He even saves the mayor of Kavarren from being killed by a runaway boar. But he takes his good standing in the community, his handsome looks, and his bravery for granted. He also takes the friendship of others for granted. Karver, for example, would do anything for Egert, but Egert often returns this loyalty with indifference and ridicule. Sometimes he acts as if Karver is one of his best friends, but the next moment he is making fun of him for being a coward.
I was reminded when reading about Egert of Gaston from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. Both men are egotisitcal and think that they are God’s gift to women. Both get spurned by one woman in particualr, Gaston by Belle, and Egert by the beautiful Toria, who is the fiance of a student. The student, Dinar, and Toria are in Kavarren searching for rare books of magic to research, and they want to find out more about a powerful mage who formed an army and an order called the “Sacred Spirit Lash.” Egert despises the student and believes that learning and education are things for the weak, and not for real men, like himself.
That all changes when Egert kills the student in a duel. After that happens, a mysterious man known as the Wanderer challenges Egert and bests him, also slashing his face with his sword. The Wanderer could have easily killed Egert but is satisfied with leaving him with the scar and something more, a curse: that of cowardice. Now, Egert can see what it’s like from the other side of the fence, and, he doesn’t like it at all. He is humiliated and becomes the subject of scorn and derision. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to him does–his cowardice leads him to desert the guards.
This set-up would make for an interesting tale in itself, but the authors,the Ukranian award-winning husband-and-wife team of Sergey and Marina Dyachenko, carry the story further, writing about how Egert tries to undo the curse and become his old self again. It’s a journey of introspection and the dawning of self-knowledge, and he must confront the horrible damage he has caused and try to make amends for a past full of misdeeds. Egert is left a coward, too terrified to even commit suicide.
How can such a person, a once fearless but bullying man who thought nothing of the damage and ill feelings he’d caused throughout his life, now a coward, hope to banish the curse that the Wanderer has inflicted on him? He has to travel a distant city, where Toria lives with her father, Luayan, a mage and the Dean of the University there. Luayan takes pity on him and offers Egert a chance to redeem himself and his life. However, to do so, Egert must become that which he had despised: a student. He must attend classes, and learn how to eventually confront the cult of evil wizards and the Wanderer’s return.
Egert Soll is an unlikely hero, one whom we find it difficult to root for at first, because of his arrogance, pride, and bullying attitude, as well as his making cuckolds of other men. Yet after he is disgraced and cursed with cowardice, we begin to feel sympathy for someone who, in many ways, was a despicable human being. Besides dealing with the evil wizards and the Wanderer, Egert must find a way to face Toria again and deal with his own problems. How he does this makes for a fascinating and page-turning read.
The Scar was originally published in 1997 in Russian. This is actually the second book of four, though it’s the first one published in English by Tor. The first novel of the series is The Gatekeeper, which was published in Russian in 1994, three years before The Scar. If you love reading Sword & Sorcery novels, you will want to add The Scar to your reading lists today.