Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.
Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?
The Pariah is the first installment in Anthony Ryan’s latest series, The Covenant of Steel. This series is off to a really good start with tons of action, good writing flow, and a cast of characters that make story worth following.
I am not Ryan expert, but I have read a few of his novellas, and that has given me enough ammo to be able to say that the author’s reputation as a great storyteller is well-earned. My favorite aspect of this book is the way the narrative ebbs and flows. I enjoy reading stories with a main conflict and many mini-conflicts along the way. I just love the suspense that is created as that type of format constantly keeps me on edge, and I look forward to how satisfying each mini-climax is as they are resolved, en route to the big payoff of the larger storyline. It feels episodic at times, and that is very appealing to me as a reader. The periodic action sequence to pullback and reset successions add to that mix, as well. I felt like that reading The Pariah, consistently wondering how are they going to get out of this situation, now that one; and, at the same time, what are the permanent effects of this leg of the journey going to be? Kudos to Ryan’s writing on the fabulous way in which this story flows, and the adventurous nature of the plot.
The writing style might have been my favorite part, but I do not want to underrate the characters, either. Alwyn is a perfect lead in this book. He is telling the story from his point of view in past tense, giving it almost a memoir kind of feeling. The retrospective nature of this is fun, but there is an added layer to having this kind of narrator. Are they reliable or not? At this point the jury is out, and I have a good time trying to parse some of the details to figure that out. That may be me just reading too much into it, and the narrator is meant to be reliable all along; but, at this point who knows, and I like the mystery of it. Of course, Alwyn is not the only character. Another really intriguing aspect of this book is the found family piece, but also that it changes so much as the story progresses. There end up being main stays: I mentioned Alwyn, but also Toria and Brewer end up as stable supporting characters. Toria is foul-mouthed and downright mean, sometimes, but she is loyal as hell and tough as nails. Brewer is not quite as jagged around the edges, but he is a great warrior. These two compliment the scheming and pensive Alwyn really well, who is also not afraid of a fight but always planning his escape at the same time. There are many other characters along the way, all contributing to the story as best as they can. The most interesting ones are those that Alwyn chooses to follow, and he has several different leaders along the way all with different personalities.
I find it interesting that, for all of Alwyn’s plotting, it feels for much of the book as though his fate is out of his hands. Alwyn is pulled along trying to help accomplish the goals of whomever holds his figurative leash at any given time, and that is one of the reasons why the writing flows so well: it constantly flits from one storyline to the next, in a very whimsical sort of way.
One thing I noticed that would take me out of the storyline every once in a while is the “I was holding a weapon but did not remember drawing it” trope. I enjoy fantasy tropes, and I know writing methods like this exist for a reason, but I think Ryan used this one (or variations of it) too often. This is something Ryan is known for in his writing, inserting these very fantasy style phrases – and I love them. I just think if you use the same one too often it becomes too noticeable, and if it is something I have to think about too much then takes away from the story a little. This is a minor thing, but it happened enough to stick with me.
Overall, The Pariah is a really good fantasy read. The story is adventurous and gritty, and I love writing style. This is a definite recommendation for fans of fantasy.