Book Review: The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

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Sometimes a book is the perfect read that comes at just the right time. Anthony Ryan’s The Pariah was such a book for me. I’d been in a reading slump for weeks. I just couldn’t bring myself to read anything at all. The book I had been reading was really, really good, but every time I sat down I just couldn’t get in the mood. I finally finished it, took a couple extra days off from reading, then picked up The Pariah because I realized the release date would be upon me soon. I was riveted from page one! I read it in a matter of days, staying up late every night to finish as much as possible. I know there are a few months left, but let me tell you, The Pariah is one of my top reads of the year!

Cover image of The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

Book Blurb

From the international best-selling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria series comes the spectacular first novel in an all-new epic fantasy trilogy.

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?”

Goodreads Blurb

Highlights

  • Outlaw fantasy
  • Writing/almost no info dumping
  • Coming of age story
  • Compelling protagonist and support characters
  • World building

The Review

I should note at this point that not only have I been in a reading slump, but I’ve been in a blogging slump. It’s been really, really hard for me to get the motivation to write anything. I started this review a couple weekends ago and I’m just now getting it done. I’m still feeling that writer’s block, so this may not be as long or detailed of a review as normal.

I love me some outlaw fantasy and that’s what this book is. Even when our protagonist is working from within the law and for a governing entity, there’s still this constant sense of rebellion about to break out. I don’t know what I like so much about this trope. Maybe it’s just the idea of sticking it to “the man.” But this isn’t Robin Hood. It isn’t stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. This is self preservation in a place that doesn’t care about you. It’s about banding together with similar people in order to survive and then, even if by accident, forming stronger bonds of friendship, if not family, and creating something new in a world that would prefer you dead. And by the time you reach the end of the book you realize it’s a story with character and heart hidden in a narrative about bandits and outcasts.

I absolutely loved the protagonist Alwyn Scribe. We meet him as a teen member of a band of outlaws. And yeah they live in a forest, but what better place to hide? We follow Alwyn as he matures into a young man, and we go through those trying years of maturity with him. I’ll tell you at first I thought we were gonna get a master assassin/thief from page one who could meet any challenge. Thank the gods Ryan didn’t write that character. Instead we get someone who has ability, but is nowhere near a master, who messes up and has to deal with consequences, who doesn’t have all the skills or knowledge, and experiences significant setbacks. And my favorite part is he’s never the leader. He’s always that guy helping and observing from the background, making an impact yes, but never the primary driving force.

Ryan’s other characters are written well too. They add heart and depth to Alwyn’s story and become a force that pushes and pulls him in different directions. My favorite has to be Toria, a skinny, loyal, down on her luck thief who befriends Alwyn in captivity. Their friendship was one of my favorite interpersonal character elements of the story.

Ryan’s writing feels effortless. It isn’t flowery prose (that wouldn’t work here) but it’s clear, fluid, and riveting. The story is told from Alwyn’s point of view; his future self looking back and narrating events from a distance in time with the wisdom of age. It’s almost a weary remembrance. So, while we know he must survive, there’s always this question of what happened in order to get him there, where is he now, how many years have passed, who is he telling his story too, and to what end? The “why” of the narration is important and lends a mystery to it throughout the book. And while the story isn’t filled with action scenes let me say Ryan can definitely write them. There are multiple fight/battle scenes but one large set piece in the middle of the book was just so well done, capturing the confusion and fear of the event in such a way that the reader, like the characters, doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, who will survive, or what’s happening beyond the small bubble of space surrounding Alwyn. I was sucked in. Ryan also manages to write this book with almost no info-dumbing. Thank you, thank you, thank you for that! Info-dumping is something that drives me crazy in a narrative and when an author can tell the story without it my love for them grows exponentially.

And then there’s the world-building. Wow…Ryan develops this world with skill and care. It’s focused upon a region, a single kingdom for the most part, but we get to feel some of the regional differences as well as the impact of neighboring areas. We see significant cultural and religious differences. Ancient history and current events play upon each other as the story unfolds. I thought Ryan did a fantastic job of developing a religion where adherents worship in varying ways based upon the places they are from, where it’s complex history is blurred by the passage of time, where some saints are real and others contrived, and where the flame of the martyrs can burn everything down. The world-building isn’t super complex, it has just the right amount of depth to keep the story interesting and moving forward without getting mired in the weeds.

I know I don’t write reviews with a lot of passion and feels, and I don’t write with a charismatic voice. I get that. I mention it because I know this review may not feel as glowing and on fire as I’d like it to be based upon my feelings for this book. So I want to end by being clear about something.

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.

Yeah. The Pariah may be my favorite read of the year. It has so much of what I love in fantasy. Compelling characters, great world-building, action and drama, a little bit of the feels, and writing that gets out of the way and keeps you turning the pages. That last part is really important. I never wanted to set this book down. I was upset at the end because I didn’t have book two on hand to dive into. I’m dying to know where this story goes and what will happen. I don’t want it to end. I enjoyed it so much I immediately went out and bought one of Ryan’s other books because I want more. This was simply great storytelling that reminds you why you love to read. Well, it was for me anyway. I hope it will be the same for you.

FYI – I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Anthony Ryan
Series: The Covenant of Steel #1
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: August 24, 2021
Format: Paperback ARC
Pages: 608

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

  1. Pingback: Off The TBR’s Best of 2021 | Off The TBR

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