The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

“A gritty, heart-pounding tale of betrayal and bloody vengeance. I loved every single word.” —John Gwynne

The Pariah begins a new epic fantasy series of action, intrigue and magic from Anthony Ryan, a master storyteller who has taken the fantasy world by storm.

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?

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My Review

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and would like to thank them and the publisher, Orbit Books for granting me a copy.

All born killers are outlaws, but not all outlaws are born killers.

This medieval epic fantasy is the first work by Anthony Ryan I have read. Told exclusively in first person from the point of view of Alwyn Scribe, who, when we meet him, is a member of Deckin Scarl’s notorious crew of outlaws who make their home in the forest of Shavine in Albermaine, the world in which this story is set.
Alwyn is telling the story from a time long after it happened and in the intervening time he has evolved from being an outlaw through many different iterations of his character, prisoner of the Pit Mines; Congregant of The Ascendant Martyr, Sihlda Doisselle of the Covenant, becoming her scribe in the process, to eventually fighting as a soldier in the King’s army. His talent for storytelling is highly engaging and his manner of directly addressing the reader drew me in immediately:

“As you will have discerned by now, cherished reader, I have had plentiful acquaintance with prisons. In so doing, I have often found occasion to reflect on the curious fact that a state of imprisonment, regardless of how genteel it may be, will inevitably become intolerable.”

His large and varied vocabulary does not go unnoticed by those who encounter him:

“You speak with flowers in your voice,”

There are great characters to be found among the band of outlaws and Alwyn’s subsequent companions. Toria was one of my favourites, a rebellious realist, a feisty and brave young woman he meets when regaining consciousness to find himself manacled inside a cage with her, being taken to the infamous Pit Mines. Their friendship amidst adversity is heartwarming and long lasting, leading Toria to follow Alwyn into battle instead of fleeing:

I expected a profane snarl or two in response, but instead Toria’s narrow features assumed a grave sincerity. Stepping closer, she grasped my hand and met my eye, speaking with quiet but urgent solicitation: “Alwyn . . . I just want you to know. If I should die today . . . ” the grip on my hand suddenly took on a painful, vice-like tightness as her eyes flashed, bright and savage “ . . . it’s your fucking fault!”

The beautiful and beguiling devout Captain Evadine Courlain is also a richly depicted and interesting character, whose presence affords allegiance from all who fight in her ranks and who believes herself to be a Seer:

Communicant Captain Lady Evadine Courlain was certainly enraged that day. I saw it plainly in the frozen, alabaster mask of her face as she refused to turn and regard the Aspirant. It was also evident in the slight jerk of her hands which I knew itched to reach for the longsword tethered to her saddle. But reach for it she did not, nor did she turn. Rage for her was something to be controlled but, I would learn in time, also unleashed in full when occasion demanded.

There are many of these “I would learn in time” type hooks peppered throughout the narrative which keep the reader interested and wanting to know more of what is to come.

Another interesting and mysterious character is that of the Sack Witch, who we meet at the battle:

She stood still and unperturbed by the ruckus. Once again the black diamond holes that formed her eyes drew me in and time seemed to slow as I passed her. Just for a second I glimpsed a pinpoint of light gleaming on a deep blue orb.

The Sack Witch spoke then, her voice seeping through the weave in a wet rasp. The words were comprehensible but only just, the product of lips too malformed to utter them with any precision.

The character of Alwyn undergoes a huge amount of development throughout this novel as he learns to write and transforms into Alwyn Scribe and driven by vengeance, his role changes enormously by the end of the book.

In addition to the rich characterisation in this novel, there is vividly depicted world-building in the descriptions of the forest, Pit Mine and the deadly battlefields and I found myself rereading and savoring the beautiful prose used to describe them:

“I looked upon a great crater some three hundred paces wide and about a third as many deep. The walls were cut by a single unbroken descending ramp that spiralled down to its arena-like floor. The spiral’s passage was marked by several mineshafts, dark rectangles breaking the monotony of grey-brown soil and rock. People entered and emerged from the shafts in a continual stream. Those who emerged walked with backs bent by burdensome sacks while those passing in the opposite direction moved with marginally more energy, backs straighter but heads sagging with fatigue. The sack bearers ascended the spiral ramp to convey their burdens to a large pile near the rim of the crater. Having delivered their cargo, they turned about and began a weary downward trudge.”

The pace of this novel is well-measured, with plenty of action, making it difficult to put down, despite its considerable length. The action scenes are obviously one of Ryan’s strengths and are expertly choreographed.

The entire company was supposed to anchor itself on the right-most troop and swing around like a great door to take an enemy in the flank. Success depended on relative marching speed, those troops closest to the anchor point taking slow minimal strides while soldiers further out moved at a trot. With our numbers depleted and many soldiers beset by fatigue or the numbing confusion instilled by first exposure to battle, the resultant formation resembled more a bowed feather than a door. However, it did have the effect of forcing the churls and a few of the charging knights to turn and face us rather than continue their assault.

The fights and battles are brutal and gory – and not for faint-hearted readers.

The religion of this world plays a huge part in the story and was a little confusing at times, with all of its Martyrs, Ascendants, Communicants, Supplicants and the Seraphile to get to grips with.

I am glad to have got to know a little of Anthony Ryan’s expert storytelling, which I had heard much about, and will be adding his earlier books to my to be read list!


About the Author

Anthony Ryan is the New York Times best selling author of the Raven’s Shadow epic fantasy novels as well as the Slab City Blues science fiction series. He was born in Scotland in 1970 but spent much of his adult life living and working in London. After a long career in the British Civil Service he took up writing full time after the success of his first novel Blood Song, Book One of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. He has a degree in history, and his interests include art, science and the unending quest for the perfect pint of real ale. For news and general wittering about stuff he likes, check out Anthony’s blog at: anthonyryan.net.

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