Fantasy author Anthony Ryan comes off his steampunk meets dragons epic Daconis Memoria trilogy (The Waking Fire, The Legion of Flame and The Empire of Ashes) to start a new series. The Pariah is the first in the Covenant of Steel series, a lengthy tome in itself which, while it slightly comes full circle, is mainly set up and foreshadowing of chaos to come in future instalments.
Unlike Draconis Memoria, which ranged across a number of characters, The Pariah is narrated by Alwyn Scribe. We know this from the opening epigram, although in the narrative it takes a while before Alwyn rises to be worthy of a second name. Making Alywn a scribe though is a shrewd move because although there is a whiff of chosen one narrative around Alwyn’s adventures, it gives a reason for him to be at the centre of some critical events even when he is not driving the action.
With the Covenant of Steel series Ryan is clearly going for a Game of Thrones vibe. This is a medieval world, ruled by King Tomas and a specific form of religion anchored around ancient Martyrs. The kingdom is surrounded by other countries and tribes who worship other gods and possibly have some truck with magic. There are hints of the supernatural throughout The Pariah, and it occasionally breaks through to the surface, but generally this is a visceral, muddy, bloody hardscrabble world (particularly for the likes of Alwyn). The main driver of the action politically is a challenge to Tomas’ throne by the “Pretender” and one of the big set pieces of the book is a very Battle-of-the-Bastards-style melee between the opposing forces told from ground level on the chaotic front line.
Outside of the overarching plot of the series, the plot of The Pariah is in some ways a coming-of-age story for Alwyn. When the book opens he is a young man running with the “King of the Thieves”, a man called Deckin who adopted him into the gang when he was ten. After a long road of significant trials, gathering enemies and allies along the way, by the end of the book Alwyn has grown into his role of scribe and kind-of hero, evidenced by encounters with a few old foes.
The Pariah is a long book but as Ryan has shown before, he knows how to keep the pages turning. So that while the narrative does occasionally drag, the characters are always interesting and there are plenty of well written action scenes to help keep interest up. By the end, some of the long running plot lines specific to Alwyn have been tied up and there is not a huge cliffhanger per se. But Ryan has done a lot of setting up in The Pariah and leaves many plot threads hanging tantalisingly to bring readers who have been hooked back for the next volume.