What a book.
Honestly, I picked it up and could hardly set it down. Anthony Ryan has always had a flair for creating interesting male protagonists (hello, Vaelin), but Alwyn is a truly engaging character.
Well, firstly we meet him while he’s a young man. He’s had a hard life and gets by using the gifts he has – the biggest one being he can tell if people are being truthful. This comes in handy for a thief who is part of a gang of outlaws. Somewhat safe in this unsafe existence, his life changes drastically when he is betrayed. Alwyn needs to grow up and learn how to survive in an chaotic world – and this is the story of how that happens.
This is certainly low fantasy. Indeed, much of the magic is initially unknown to us, because it is also unknown to Alwyn. We learn more about it as the story unfolds, and yet, I feel we have much more to learn.
Game of Thrones, the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, has very little in the way of fantasy. The fantastical elements grow as the series develops. I expect the same to happen with this series. The more fantastical elements come later in the book, though as you read these parts, it becomes apparent that earlier passages contained them too – Alwyn just didn’t recognise it.
And what of the world building? My first thoughts on reading The Pariah was that it was inspired by the Protestant Reformation, Robin Hood, and a period of English history known as The Anarchy. ‘The Second Scourge’ has a feel of The Black Death about it too. Add in a touch of magic and prophesy – and suddenly we have an incredibly believable world, which is as in-depth as A Song of Ice and Fire.
I would recommend this book to fans of historical-fantasy, low fantasy, epic fantasy – and for those who like a following one central protagonist. The prose is also excellent and completely engaging. In fact, this is very much the core strength of this book.
Alwyn is also a great character. He’s done plenty of wrong, but even from the start he does his best to save people from those with unsavoury and evil motivations. More of a Jamie Lannister than a Jorg Ancrath, he’s not so wicked as the life thrust upon him is – and thus he is an easy character to follow. He acquires quite a few friends along the way. I love Toria and Wilhum the best of these.
I would also add that there is a touch of The Last Kingdom stylisation here. Alwyn, like Uhtred, is the central protagonist and therefore other important characters can come and go. No one is safe and that makes the story very exciting indeed. The story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger too – and needless to say I will be reading The Martyr when it comes out next year!
Thanks for reading the review.
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Mythology Queen Blog
Shauna Lawless is an author and her upcoming series is a historical fantasy set in 10th century, Ireland. The first book, The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, is now available to pre-order.