The Pariah, Book One of The Covenant of Steel

Book Reviews / Sunday, August 8th, 2021

By: Anthony Ryan
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warning: Gore, violence, torture

Pariah: one that is despised or rejected; an outcast

When writing a review, I often struggle with comparing the book to other authors within the genre. I do not wish to diminish the work of the book and the author I am reviewing. However, it does provide a measure of reference for readers who may be new to the author. As a scientist, whenever we conduct an experiment, we use a “control” group. It is the basis of comparison for the results of said experiment. For example, when testing medication, one group gets the medication, the other a placebo. In doing this, you can compare the outcome between the 2 groups. As I am analytical when I write reviews, I think the comparison serves as a control group. What does this have to do with The Pariah? Because this book is, quite frankly, brilliant. How do I convey to the reader what to expect? Take Robin Hobb, toss in some Joe Abercrombie, and finally, a bit of Patrick Rothfuss, and you can get an idea of how exceptional The Pariah is. If you like any of these authors, epic fantasy, or grimdark fantasy, this book will not disappoint.  

The Pariah was my first book by Anthony Ryan and he is a master at his craft. His story telling is nothing short of phenomenal. I was honestly drawn to it by the cover. It’s haunting singular character, face cast in shadow, sitting with a sword, is beautiful. The reader instantly wants to know: who is this character? Is it indeed The Pariah as named? They say never judge a book by its cover, but in this case, it’s safe to say that my judgement was correct. The book is told in the first-person narrative of Alwyn, later known as Alwyn Scribe. Not only is it first-person, but Alwyn often addresses the reader as he is writing his tale.

“Brave Deckin of the woods, strong and kind he stood.” …If, dear reader, you find yourself minded to believe a word of this I have a six-legged donkey to sell you…” – Anthony Ryan, The Pariah

He begins his tale as part of the above-mentioned band of Deckin Scarl’s thieves. Alwyn’s tale is full of adventure, misadventure, betrayal, loyalty, and love. His time with Deckin Scarl comes to an abrupt end and he finds himself sentenced to life as a prisoner of the Pit Mines with Toria, whom he was taken to the mines with. Alwyn, beset by betrayal of those he thought of as family, wants his revenge. They travel to the mines in the hands of a brutal man, and Mr. Ryan’s prose is pure beauty, evoking a clear representation of him in the reader’s mind.

“…I had known bad men before, the vicious, the sadistic, the greedy, but a truly evil soul was, so far, beyond my experience. Now I beheld one and knew what I beheld.” – Anthony Ryan, The Pariah

In the mines, we meet 2 more important protagonists, Sihlda and Brewer. She is a revered Ascendant of Seraphil. The best comparison is to think of Sihlda as a priestess. She becomes an important part of Alwyn’s life and is, in fact, why he is called Alwyn Scribe. Sihlda is a gentle, kind soul, as well as cunning and calculating, and Alwyn comes to care deeply for her. Brewer is devoted to Sihlda and is her protector. In his years in the mines, she teaches Alwyn to read and write, trusting him with her most sensitive information. During this time, all of their lives inevitably become intertwined and will change forever. As their lives inexorably bind together, they find themselves in the armed services of Lady Evadine Courlain. She is a noble woman with visions of a scourge upon Albermaine, a devout servant of Seraphile, and leader of the Covenant Company. In her service, Alwyn, Toria, and Brewer survive the odds that are stacked against them as they head into a war they are ill prepared to fight.

Mr. Ryan’s battle scenes are on par with the best I have read. They are brutal, bloody, gritty and real. War is not clean, and Mr. Ryan holds nothing back. While there is gore and violence, the reality and odds these characters face are driven home. The action is well-paced and, yes, descriptive. This is necessary not only to bring the reader into the battle, but to show what Alwyn, Toria, and Brewer are facing. Alwyn’s narrative only makes it more real: 

This is murder, I knew it as I raised my billhook above my head, bringing it down to split the trapped, snarling fellow’s skull open.
And thus, dear reader, the battle was joined.” – Anthony Ryan, The Pariah

Alwyn’s tale continues and takes twists and turns that the reader can never predict. The world building is excellent as well. From the forest where he lives as a thief, to life in the Pit Mine, the brutal battlefields, to cold lands to the north, again, through Alwyn’s eyes, they are brought vividly to life for the reader. There is magic as well in The Pariah. However, I believe to discuss it at length would give away too much information and lead to spoilers. The magic was as well done as the rest of the elements in the book. I can’t praise The Pariah enough. The character development was superb, the pacing and prose was beautifully constructed, the world building was excellent and the action scenes were brilliant. Anthony Ryan is certainly a genius in weaving together all of these elements into a fantasy that draws the reader in from the first page and never lets up. I highly recommend The Pariah, and I eagerly await the next book in The Covenant of Steel series.

Summary (from NetGalley)

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?

The Characters

Alwyn, Alwyn Scribe: the main protagonist, is a thief and outlaw when we first meet him. As we read his story arc, through his own narrative, he is fiercely loyal, protective of those he cares for, and ultimately a survivor. Alwyn will do what he feels is necessary for those he cares for, even if it is dangerous or goes against rules that are set forth. I loved Alwyn. He is flawed, does things he knows are bad, but in the end, when called upon, he ultimately does what is right. Alwyn makes no excuses for things that he has done, which, for this reader, made him even more likeable. Through his own voice, we can relate to his “humanness”; his fear as he goes into battle, his stubborn quest for vengeance, and how he relates to those around him. Alwyn is among the best characters I have encountered.

Deckin Scarl is one of those larger-than-life characters. He is a natural leader, big and imposing. Of course, we see him through Alwyn’s eyes and this is the aura that he appears to give off. Alwyn cares for him, but at the same time, does fear him. He is grateful to Deckin for taking him in when he was left on his own, but he also knows Deckin demands loyalty. The price for betraying that loyalty is costly.

Sihlda: She is The Ascendant of Seraphile in the Pit Mine. In his narrative, she becomes a pivotal character in his life, teaching him to read and write, effectively making him Alwyn Scribe. Why she is in the Pit Mine is for the reader to find out. Suffice to say that Alwyn cares deeply for her and she trusts him completely. She is the counter character to him. He, the thief and outlaw, and she is the one who teaches him life lessons that help him survive. She is a truly amazing character.

Lady Evadine Courlain, the noble woman who leads Covenant Company, is a strong, fearless, and fierce woman. Her devotion to Seraphile is unyielding and drives all that she does. Alwyn is not sure if he believes her visions, nor is he as devoted as she by any means. Yet he respects her, as she is honest in her beliefs and will protect those in her charge. Her effect on Alwyn is quite apparent. I look forward to more of their interaction in the coming books. 

“… The Lady Evadine Courlain had a very direct gaze many described as piercing. Added to that was the disconcerting sense that arose when in proximity to a human being so gifted with the kind of beauty normally confined to a statue or paining… I entertained few doubts regarding this woman’s awareness of her own appearance, or the effect it had on others.”  – Anthony Ryan, The Pariah

Pacing and Prose

The Pariah is a beautifully written novel, even though there is violence, gore and torture. That does not take up the majority of the book. It seamlessly and effortlessly flows throughout the book. Mr. Ryan’s descriptions of characters and events are a wonder to read. The battle scenes feel real, as well as the angst and fear of the characters. Weaving all the elements of fantasy together so that nothing feels forced is what makes for excellent writing. The pacing was excellent as well. There was action interspersed with character interaction. It was a great balance that moved the story forward. We were able to see character development, as well as the action scenes that are critical to the plot. There was no time in my reading of The Pariah that I felt nothing was happening or anything was repetitive. 

Overall Thoughts

The Pariah is easily on par with the best of fantasy novels in the genre. With brilliant character development, beautiful writing, and world building, The Pariah is sure to become a classic. Told in the first-person perspective of the main protagonist, Alwyn, the story unfolds in a unique and exceptional way. The characters are very well developed, each with their own complexity and story arc. There are battles, gore and torture, but it is an essential part of the story, and the reality is, that war is not neat and clean. When the story is told in the first-person narrative, it makes sense to see the grit, blood, and hard choices of life and death in battle. Alwyn’s narrative often speaks directly to the reader, which I found very interesting and it makes us feel Alwyn’s experiences. As the first book in The Covenant of Steel Series, The Pariah certainly has it off to an excellent start. I eagerly await the next book in the series.

You can find out more about the Pariah and Anthony Ryan’s other books on his website:

Order The Pariah on Amazon

This review is based on an uncorrected advanced copy. Some quotes may change in the final copy of the book.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eBook in exchange for an honest review. 

The Pariah cover art by Jaime Jones ( (This image was cropped from a photo of the book. It was not taken off the internet)
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