When the task is a killing, be quick and make sure of it.
Torment is an indulgence.
Save it for only the most deserving.
Born in 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 comradeship of his fellow thieves. Yet an act of betrayal sets him on a new path of blood and vengeance, which 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 human and arcane forces gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?
Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This is my first Anthony Ryan book, and wow was I blown away! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it as the blurb is relatively vague (which I like, actually) and was initially worried it would be too grim for me. But it really didn’t take me long to fall in love with Alwyn and his storytelling, and I could tell from the first few chapters that this book was going to take me for a ride. As the blurb says, the story follows Alwyn, the bastard son of a prostitute who was taken in at a young age by famed outlaw Deckin Scarl, and thrives in that life until Deckin’s band comes under attack and Alwyn is forced to flee. This is as far into the plot that I will mention, because so much of the enjoyment of reading The Pariah comes from following Alwyn’s tale and wondering at upcoming twists. This is the first book in a while that took me entirely by surprise at several points, and I definitely wasn’t able to predict the ending.
‘I ask you, Scribe, what meaning is there to truth or lies in this world? As for blood, I have heard of you. I know your tale. History may judge me as monstrous, but you are a far bloodier man than I.’
The story is framed as Alwyn recording his life, often using ‘dear reader’ in his sentences and sometimes making reference to future events to further highlight the importance of those currently taking place. This is quite hard to do well, but Ryan was incredibly successful, and Alwyn has a really unique voice that swept me away in its storytelling. His characterisation is also perfectly balanced; he’s an outlaw, and he does many questionable things throughout the novel, yet he is also loyal to his friends and has a certain nobility to his character that makes him charming. It’s also hard to create a character who is skilful and succeeds at most things they do, without making them too perfect, and again I think that Ryan hit the balance really well. Alwyn is first an outlaw, then a scribe, and later a soldier, and at each new stage in his adventure he rises in the estimation of the leader of whichever group he is part of, and because of this learns new skills that make him even more essential in his role, but we do get to see the way he learns, rather than him picking up everything with ease. The rest of the characters, no matter how minor, are also given a lot of life, partly through the way Alwyn describes them, and it all added to the sense of reality this story has.
The setting of The Pariah is also fascinating: the duchies are ruled by a King, and during Alwyn’s story there is ongoing conflict between King Tomas and the pretender Magnis Lochlain, called the ‘True King’ by his followers. At the same time however, the main religion of Albermaine, the Covenant, is seeing an uprising, with people claiming the second Scourge is close at hand. Alwyn finds himself caught up in both these conflicts, and it’s really interesting how they intersect and come to be at odds. What Anthony Ryan does in The Pariah is probably the most interesting use of religion in a fantasy novel I have seen in quite a while – much of modern fantasy seems to use religion merely as an extra block in world building, applying modern scepticism so that none of the main characters truly believing any of it, but in Alwyn’s world there is true belief in the blessed Seraphile and the evil Malecite, and the first Scourge seems to have actually happened. It’s all incredibly fascinating, especially in the way everything is slowly introduced and then built up throughout the novel. I’m hoping we get to find out more about the religion and the other magic systems present in the world in the next book.
As you can tell, I really loved this book, and would say it has quite a few similar elements to John Gwynne’s books, as well as to Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, so if you like those, you’ll definitely enjoy The Pariah. Really, I think that the narrative voice and the fast paced action will appeal to a lot of people, so I urge you to pick this up and give it a go! If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought in the comments.
Published: 26th August 2021 by Orbit Books
Series: The Covenant of Steel, book one
Narration style: first person, past tense, single narrator
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: violence, sexual content, torture