By: Anthony Ryan
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books
Content Warning: Gore, violence, torture. There will be spoilers for The Pariah
Martyr: a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle
The Martyr is the second book in Anthony Ryan’s brilliant Covenant of Steel series. It picks up not long after the events of The Pariah and it is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish as we continue to follow the life of Alwyn Scribe. With a few exceptions, we follow him as a full Supplicant Blade in Evadine Courlain’s Covenant Company, as they battle to fight the Imposter King Tomas from taking the throne. There are many battle scenes in The Martyr and I continue to be impressed by how Mr. Ryan composes these scenes. Each is different, having its own obstacles, so it never becomes monotonous. He holds nothing back in terms of the violence and horrors of war, which makes them even more realistic, not only for the reader, but the characters as well. It is engrossing, exciting, and masterful writing. I could not stop reading as the Covenant Company often battled against odds that always seemed inevitably stacked against them. Mr. Ryan excels here as well, as he puts obstacles in their way, but uses the character’s ingenuity and cunning. By not always having “full on” battles, this becomes so much more interesting and intriguing to read. The characters have grown and developed from The Pariah, and new characters are introduced. They are always fully fleshed out, each with a distinct personality and background. Alwyn rises up through the ranks in the Covenant Company, becoming Evadine’s main confidant, and there is a clear attraction growing between the two. She is quite an interesting character, and seeing so much more of her in this book, my opinion of her certainly wavers about who she really is. Rife with political intrigue, excellent character building, and a compelling story full of twists and turns, The Martyr is just as gripping and exciting as The Pariah.
Having risen from “death”, Evadine has become the Risen Martyr of Seraphile, preaching her words and gaining followers. What she doesn’t know is that to save her life, Alwyn and Wilhum sought out the Sack Witch, the Carieth Doenlisch, to heal her, and doing so, took a some of Alwyn’s life to heal her. This has created a unique bond between the two. This was laid out in The Pariah, thus making Evadine a false martyr. Evadine, not knowing, is steadfast in her belief she is the Risen Martyr. As we learn more about her in this book, I found Evadine to be more and more of a morally gray character. As the word spreads of the Risen Martyr, she gains followers. Evadine appears calm, even when going to battle, believing Seraphile watches over her. She is also a very skilled fighter and leader. I felt fanaticism in her new status as the book progressed, and she did many things that, to me, is what made her morally gray. Evadine is great character in the way she has developed, and her calm demeanor belies what is underneath.
Lilat is a new character that Alwyn meets as he is forced to stay with Caerith to recover from being wounded. She is sharp with a bow, and each learn from each other the ways of their people. When it is time for Alwyn to leave, Lilat accompanies him. Although her time in the book is short compared to other characters, I think she is an excellent addition to the story, and I loved her character. I look forward to hopefully seeing more of her in the next book. The other character of note is Juhlina. She suffered the trauma of losing her family and joined the Covenant Company. Juhlina, or The Widow, is in many ways, just as fanatical as Evadine. However, hers is laser focused revenge. She becomes skilled in battle simply because she knows no fear, she doesn’t care about her safety. Juhlina shows little emotion, and will wade into the thick of the fighting, driven by rage and revenge.
Like The Pariah, The Martyr is told in the first-person narrative of Alwyn. He still often addresses “dear reader” as this is a memoir of his life. What is very interesting about Alwyn is that he makes no excuses for what he does. He knows at times his moral compass is compromised. Alwyn will lie for Evadine, and he does so she as her witness to be have been brought back from death, thus is formally named the Risen Martyr. We see everything through the eyes of Alwyn as he writes the story of his life. Is his opinions skewed? Of course, they would be, and that’s what makes this series so brilliant. Alwyn knows exactly who he is and what he has done. He has done good things, but he also knows that his crimes, as he states, are many. Having lied about her being the Risen Martyr, he may very well have set in motion a scourge he cannot control. Once again, Mr. Ryan’s prose is pure beauty, evoking a clear representation of Alwyn in the reader’s mind.
Mr. Ryan’s prose is sharp and The Martyr is a beautifully written novel. All of the elements, the battles, the marches, the political intrigue, and Alwyn’s time with Caerith seamlessly and effortlessly flows throughout the book. His descriptions of characters and events are amazingly detailed, especially the battle scenes. They are so realistic; we can feel the angst and fear of the characters as they fight the odds stacked against them. There is very little magic in this series, apart from a few characters, most notably the Doenlisch. Weaving all the elements of fantasy together so that nothing feels forced is what makes for excellent writing. The pacing was superb. There was non-stop action, but it was interspersed with character interaction and development. It was a great balance that moved the story forward. There was no time in my reading of The Martyr that I felt nothing was happening or anything was repetitive.
The Martyr, the second book in the Covenant of Steel series, is as excellent at the first book. The characters have further developed and new characters have been introduced. It continues the tale of Alwyn’s life as only he can tell it to the reader. As we see his character develop more, he is honest about who he is and the things he has done. While he is a morally gray character, I like Alwyn because he makes no excuses for himself. As we see more of Evadine and she embraces status as the Risen Martyr, her actions can be questionable. The characters are very well developed, even the newly introduced ones also have their own complexity and story arc. While there are many battles, gore, and torture in this book, it is an essential part of the story. This is the world that Alwyn lives in and he cannot describe it any other way. Characters rely on ingenuity and strategy to beat overwhelming odds. When the story is told in the first-person narrative, it makes sense to see everything and hard choices that Alwyn must make in this book. His actions are often not the right course of action, and he knows it, but he is tied to Evadine and he protects her at all costs. What the consequences will be, we do not know yet. Alwyn’s narrative often speaks directly to the reader, which I found very interesting and it makes truly us feel Alwyn’s experiences and how he sees others. The Martyr is excellent and is certainly setting up a thrilling continuation of Alwyn Scribe’s life. I highly recommend this series, and eagerly await the next book.
Summary (from NetGalley)
Times have changed for Alwyn Scribe. Once an outlaw, he’s now a spymaster and sworn protector of Lady Evadine Courlain, whose visions of a demonic apocalypse have earned her the fanatical devotion of the faithful.
Yet Evadine’s growing fame has put her at odds with both Crown and Covenant. As trouble brews in the kingdom, both seek to exploit her position for their own ends.
Sent to the Duchy of Alundia to put down a rebellion, Alwyn must rely on old instincts to fight for his new cause. Deadly feuds and ancient secrets are laid bare as war erupts, a war that will decide the fate of the Kingdom of Albermaine and, perhaps, prevent the coming of the prophesied Second Scourge.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eBook in exchange for an honest review.
My thanks to Orbit Books for approving me for an ARC.