Publisher: Orbit (Audiobook – 24 August 2021)
Series: The Covenant of Steel – Book One
Length: 19 hours and 57 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Bestselling fantasy author Anthony Ryan returns with the first book in an epic, brand new series, The Pariah, a massive and captivating tale of one young man destined to alter an entire kingdom.
Anthony Ryan is an impressive and highly regarded fantasy author who has been a leading figure in the fantasy fiction landscape for the last 10 years. Ryan has already written several compelling series, including the Raven’s Shadow trilogy (succeeded by the Raven’s Blade duology), the Slab City Blues series, the Draconis Memoria trilogy and his Seven Swords series. All these series sound pretty awesome, and I have been meaning to check out some of Ryan’s works for years, especially his Raven’s Shadow books. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to go back and read any of them, which I really regret. So when I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Pariah a couple of weeks ago, I was very interested in checking it out, especially as it serves as the first book in the brand new The Covenant of Steel series, which I thought would be a good way to experience Ryan’s writing style. I am very glad that I did as The Pariah was an outstanding and powerful fantasy read that I had a wonderful time getting through.
Alwyn is a young outlaw, trained by his band to steal, kill, spy and deceive. Raised in the massive and forbidding forest known as the Shavine Marches, in the heart of the kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn serves the notorious Deckin Scarl, a feared and revered bandit king who rules the forests with an iron fist. Following a deadly civil war, Deckin finds himself with an opportunity to eliminate a recently installed duke and his family and seize his power and lands. However, before he can enact his ambitious and murderous plan, the bandit horde is betrayed, Deckin is executed and Alwyn is imprisoned, sent to work a lifetime in the labour prison known as the Pit Mines.
Determined to escape the mines and get revenge on the person responsible for the death of everyone he knew and loved, Alwyn finds himself under the sway of an inspirational cleric imprisoned alongside him. Under her tutelage, Alwyn learns a subtler art and becomes a scribe of great skill. However, his desire for freedom and revenge is never far from his mind, and he soon leads the inmates of the pit in an ambitious escape attempt, and so sets forth a series of events that will change Albermaine forever
Managing to escape from the prison and find sanctuary, Alwyn learns much and finds himself taking on many guises including that of scribe, scholar, advisor, and thief, as he attempts to find safety, wealth, and revenge. However, fate never appears to be on Alwyn’s side, and his bad luck eventually forces him to join a military company serving a noble lady who believes herself touched by the gods. Pledging himself to this company to save his life, Alwyn traverses battlefields and warzones across Albermaine, encountering some of the unusual people who inhabit this chaotic realm. His adventures will place him at the centre of the formative events of the kingdom and the church, but how will this scribe of bastard birth rise to become one of the most infamous figures of the age?
This was an outstanding novel from Ryan and one that makes me really regret not checking out some of his previous novels earlier. The Pariah contains an epic and comprehensive fantasy tale that sees a flawed protagonist traverse a compelling and well-established new fantasy realm. I had an amazing time getting through this impressive novel and it gets a full five-star rating from me.
The Pariah has a really great story that I got pretty damn addicted to. This latest book from Ryan is told in the chronicle form, as penned by its protagonist, Alwyn Scribe, who recounts his life story, including the early events which are the focus of this book. Ryan dives right into The Pariah’s narrative extremely quickly, with details of the setting and history weaved in as the tale progresses. The story has an intriguing start to it, showing Alwyn as the young member of a bandit crew with an ambitious leader. However, the story goes in some very interesting and devastating directions fast, with a brutal massacre changing the entire status quo for the protagonist and forcing him onto a new path. The rest of the story follows Alwyn as he becomes mixed up with a series of inspirational leaders, mysterious magic users, and fun side characters, whose plans and beliefs forces the protagonist into great adventure and intrigue. This leads to some awesome and memorable scenes, including a dangerous prison break, some epic battle sequences, and innumerable mysteries and revelations, several of which are left open for the author to explore in the rest of the series. This all leads to an intriguing and action-packed conclusion that showcases the protagonist’s growth, while also setting up the future entries in the series pretty well.
I deeply enjoyed the author’s impressive writing style in this novel, especially with the entire novel set out in the form of first-person chronicle. Due to the cool stories that it can tell, I have a lot of love for the chronicle format, and I felt Ryan did a really good job of utilising it in The Pariah. The post-examination of Alwyn’s story from his older self provides a unique and compelling view of the events unfolding around him, and I enjoyed the various notes from his older self that hint at future events and hidden secrets. These discussions of future events help to add a certain amount of anticipation and suspense at various points at the novel, such as the early hints about the ambush at the bandit camp or mentions about future dark meetings with certain characters. I also found the focus of this book to be quite interesting, especially as a large portion of the novel was more concerned with setting up future storylines, rather than moving the story along at a quicker pace. This is a very classic epic fantasy move from Ryan, and it quite enjoyed the way in which he took the time to establish the protagonist, the supporting cast, and the settings, with a particular focus on some of the formative events of Alwyn’s life. While I enjoyed this set-up, it does steal a little excitement and momentum from the narrative, although I think the sheer amount of interesting setting detail and the intriguing potential of several established, long-term storylines more than makes up for it. All these interesting writing elements helped to turn The Pariah into a very exciting and compelling read, and I really loved the way in which they enhanced the already awesome narrative.
I also quite enjoyed the new setting that Ryan set up for The Covenant of Steel series, which has an interesting medieval European feel to it, equipped with knights, forest-dwelling bandits, and religious crusades. The entire novel is set within the Western Duchies of Albermaine, a nation riven by civil war, invasion and religious instability. This proves to be an outstanding and compelling background to the awesome story contained with The Pariah, especially as the protagonist finds himself visiting some of the more unique locations of this setting during major historical events. I personally enjoyed the cool forest lair portrayed in the start of the novel, mainly because Ryan was trying to emulate a darker version of the Robin Hood tale, but there is also a deadly prison mine and an elaborate cathedral that serve as major settings which I thought were really good.
There is also a great focus on the political and religious makeup of Albermaine, and this results in some fascinating storylines. I really liked the focus on the martyr-based and corrupt overarching religious organisation that has substantial control of the kingdom, as that forms a driving point of the plot, with the protagonist becoming involved with several unorthodox clergy members, who bring down the wrath of the rest of the church for their actions. Also, I am kind of curious to see if a prophesied end-of-the world event that multiple characters preach about actually occurs in future novels, especially as it would be a pretty fun story moment if it did. The protagonist also seems drawn to several people with magical abilities considered heretical by the church, which offers an interesting counterpoint to his other threats, especially as each of these magical characters produce impressive mysteries and potential dark storylines. I was impressed with how much time the author takes to imbue his setting with a massive amount of detail and after the quick start to the narrative, the reader is given a crash course in the history and politics of the realm. Despite the level of detail, I think that Ryan spread the world building out to an acceptable degree, and I never felt too overwhelmed with the various explanations and world expansions. I had a wonderful time traversing Albermaine with the protagonist and I look forward to seeing what additional developments and storylines occur within it in the future novels.
As I mentioned above, the novel is solely told from the perspective of protagonist Alwyn, later known as Alwyn Scribe once he takes up his profession, who is penning the events of his younger life. Alwyn is an interesting protagonist to follow and thanks to the author’s use of the chronicle style, you really get a sense of the character’s personality, motivations, and intentions as the novel progresses. Initially starting off as a young thief with immense loyalty to his chief, Alwyn goes through a lot as the novel progresses, forced to make hard decisions and encountering horrors, mistakes and a load of enemies as his tale progresses. I found Alwyn to be a complex and compelling figure, and I didn’t always like him or his decisions, especially when he was reckless and rash. However, he does grow as the novel progresses and, while he still has a lot more development to go, I felt that he was a better character at the end of the novel. I liked the various talents that Alwyn develops throughout the novel, and it was fun to have a more complex and less noble figure, thanks to his past as a thief and conman. I especially enjoyed his transition into a scribe, which the character soon sees as his primary profession, and it certainly is an interesting and compelling role for a fantasy protagonist. I liked the way in which the older version of the character tells the story, especially as there are some great reflections about his actions and his personality during that time, and you can often hear the protagonist’s regret over what he did and what is to come. I cannot wait to see what happens to this character in the future, and I kind of suspect that his tale is not going to come to a very happy end.
Aside from Alwyn, The Pariah is filled with a massive contingent of side and supporting characters who Alwyn meets throughout his adventures. These characters are featured perfectly throughout the narrative and I loved the unique and compelling ways in which they influenced the overall story. Ryan invests a lot of time into developing many of these characters, even some who had more minor roles, providing interesting personal histories and personality traits to make them stand out, and I appreciated how complex and compelling their storylines could turn out to be. I found it interesting that there was a focus on inspiration leaders, with Alwyn falling in with three separate figures in this novel, each of whom commanded his loyalty through different means and whom he became close with in different ways (one is a surrogate father, another a teacher, while the third has a very complicated and constantly evolving relationship with the protagonist). There were also some interesting antagonists featured throughout the novel, and while a couple died before their time, Ryan made sure to leave some of the better ones alive for the next entry in the series, and I am sure they will have an impact there. Each of the characters featured in The Pariah added a lot to the plot, and I cannot wait to see what unique figures are featured in Ryan’s next entry.
While I did receive a physical copy of The Pariah, I decided to try out the audiobook format instead. I am glad that I did as this was an excellent and enjoyable audiobook that was really fun to listen to. Due to its massive story, The Pariah has a decent run time of just under 20 hours, although I managed to get through it in less than a week as I really got into the amazing story. The audiobook moved at a great pace, ensuring that there were never any dull or slow moments for the listener to get bogged down in. I also found that the audiobook format was a great way to absorb the intense amount of world-building, and it also lent itself to some of the exciting fight scenes extremely well. I was also impressed by the narration of Steven Brand, who brought a wonderful energy to this format. Brand has an amazing voice and he quickly leapt into the role of the narrator, telling the unique tale of the protagonist’s life and inhabiting the character seamlessly. I loved the distinctive and well-fitted voices that Brand used throughout The Pariah, and he really helped to turn this format into something special. As a result, the audiobook version of this book comes highly recommended and I will probably end up listening to the rest of this series in this format.
The Pariah by Anthony Ryan is an epic and deeply compelling piece of fantasy fiction that is really worth reading. Perfectly setting up Ryan’s intriguing new series, The Pariah was an awesome outing from this talented author, and I loved the brilliant story, complex characters and chaotic setting that was featured throughout it. I cannot wait to see how this awesome series is going to turn out, and The Covenant of Steel novels look set to be one of the most iconic fantasy series of the next few years.