By: Anthony Ryan
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books
Content Warning: Gore, violence, torture. There will be spoilers for The Pariah and The Martyr
“What do you know of the Malecite, Alwyn?…
They are the wellspring of evil in the world, I said…
I stared at him, baffled but also fearful, refusing to prompt him further, but he told me anyway. Evadine, he said, serves the Malecite.”
Anthony Ryan, The Traitor
The Traitor is the final book and the conclusion of Alwyn Scribe’s story in Anthony Ryan’s masterful Covenant of Steel series. It truly was one of my favorite fantasy series and Mr. Ryan is a brilliant writer. As with the other books, The Traitor picks right after the events of The Martyr and it is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish. We continue to follow Alwyn’s life story as he has become not only the Supplicant Blade in Evadine Courlain’s Covenant Company, but her most trusted advisor and lover. This final book beautifully complete’ s Alwyn’s arc, as well as Evadines, and it takes the reader through the twists and turns, and the turmoil of their relationship. What fascinated me was that as a fantasy, it really addressed fanaticism and how far a person will go with their beliefs and just what their followers will do in her name. Evadine was just such a person, and her arc spoke to this throughout the series. As she changes with her newfound fame, Evadine takes a dark turn. In contrast, Alwyn’s arc will become difficult for him. The bastard son of a prostitute, once a thief and outlaw, now looks upon his life and the world in a very different way, a way which has him questioning many things he has done. The Alwyn we came to know in The Pariah has come a long way. His journey has been gut wrenching, violent, emotional, and one that has profoundly changed him. He is a character that will stay with you long after you have read the series, and The Traitor is Mr. Ryan’s brilliant swan song to Alwyn Scribe. I cannot recommend this series enough.
The Traitor is told, as the previous books, in the first person of Alwyn since it has always been his story to tell. As he continues his path, Alwyn never makes excuses for the things he has done. When pointed out, he thinks upon them and may wrestle with the morality of it, but he confronts it all honestly. I always found Alwyn an endearing character. He has a quiet wisdom and the ability to speak his mind in such a way that in most instances is not confrontational. He always had a way of reading people, seeing slight expressions, muscle movements, and other things people would miss that give away how someone really feels. In many ways, Alwyn can tell if a person is lying by using these skills of observation. He uses these them when assessing what Evadine is morphing into, yet is hesitant to do anything about it. In The Traitor is where Alwyn faces his biggest choices and confronts his growing inner turmoil over Evadine.
“…if there was ever a land in need of peace, it was Albermaine. When Evadine rose to don the crown, who but the mad would contend her? Such, dearest reader, are the delusions of those lost in the maze of love”
Anthony Ryan, The Traitor
Evadine has fully embraced her role as the Risen Martyr. Perhaps she has embraced it too much. She, too, has changed from when we met her in The Pariah. Evadine has changed from the woman giving nightly sermons to her followers, to an almost cold woman who feels the need to cleanse the land of those who would question her. As I mentioned, her arc brilliantly speaks to the idea of fanaticism. There are those who can whip a crowd into a frenzy because of their “beliefs”, which may or may not be what they actually feel. They simply want the power. Then there are those like Evadine, who truly believe what they are and feel it is their duty to carry out what they must in the name of those beliefs. Gone are the nightly sermons, replaced by a woman who will do what she must to those who do not believe in the Risen Martyr of the Seraphile. She has gathered thousands of followers who join her cause, and in her name, will do whatever she asks. Again, the fanaticism of whipping a crowd into a frenzy using her words, was something Evadine always excelled at. It is watching this change that Alwyn wrestles with.
“The growl of affirmation from the crowd made it clear that, once again, the Anointed Lady’s words had found their mark. I have learned in subsequent years that it is far easier to rouse people to hate than it is to love, a lesson I think Evadine learned at a far earlier age.”
Anthony Ryan, The Traitor
Other main characters are back as well, Wilhem, Lilat, and The Widow, plus a host of other minor characters. I found the Widow’s arc to be one of the most satisfying and, dare I say, in many ways, the happiest? As we are aware, Alwyn, the Widow, and a band of soldiers he was traveling with, were captured. It seems something changed her in that moment. She is no longer just the mindless, violent widow. She is now Juhlina, the woman she once was, and she is more loyal to Alwyn than she is to Evadine. Juhlina is smart and can see beyond Evadine’s rousing words and realizes nothing good will come of it. I loved this aspect of her, having her character grow in this way. Juhlina became one of my favorite characters. Revealing too much would enter spoiler territory, but I can say that she follows Alwyn on an important quest as tensions build and an inevitable war is coming. She never leaves his side. One of the most touching moments that had me in tears was when Juhlina got closure for her daughter’s death, which is what haunted her so much.
“A soft smile came to her lips and she lowered a hand, playing her fingers through the rippling surface. “I saw a happy little girl who knew she was loved,” Juhlina said. “That was the truth I hid from myself, Alwyn. Lysotte’s death was ugly, but her life was sweet because I cherished her so.”
Anthony Ryan, The Traitor
Mr. Ryan’s prose is sharp and The Traitor is a beautifully written novel. All the elements, the battles, the marches, the political intrigue, and Alwyn’s turmoil and ultimate actions seamlessly and effortlessly flows throughout the book. His descriptions of characters and events are amazingly detailed, especially the battle scenes, which he excels at. 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. The character development was more present in this book given that, first, this is the end of Alwyn’s story. Second, there are difficult choices that must be made. These were choices that he and the others did not face in the first two books. There was quiet reflection for Alwyn where we hear his inner monologue, heartbreaking choices, and beautifully emotional, gut-wrenching moments. It was a great balance that moved the story forward. There was no time in my reading of The Traitor that I felt nothing was happening or anything was repetitive. It was, as always, a superbly written book.
The Traitor, the final book in the Covenant of Steel series, is as excellent conclusion to this brilliant series. The characters have come full circle, and Mr. Ryan beautifully completes their arcs. As Alwyn falls in love with Evadine, he also sees changes in her that at times, he tries to defend in his own mind. Evadine, fully embracing her status as the Risen Martyr, carries out actions that become more than questionable. While he is a morally gray character, I like Alwyn because he makes no excuses for himself. While there are many battles, gore, and torture in this book, it is an essential part of the story. The Widow has changed, and her arc is one that I truly loved. She is once again Juhlina, not the mindless killer. She sees what Evadine has become, and though she tries to tell Alwyn, he is still struggling. All I can say at this point is that Juhlina is very loyal to Alwyn and does not leave his side. 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 ultimately painful for him, but he, as always, knows what is right. There are things he cannot over look, and this takes him on a journey of discovery, with Juhlina at his side. To reveal more than that would be a major spoiler, so I cannot divulge more. What the consequences will be of that journey, while I cannot say, will change the course of events. The choices made in this book are heartbreaking and often pack and emotional punch. The Traitor is the perfect ending to The Covenant of Steel, which has become one of my favorite fantasy series. Though Alwyn’s story has come to a close, I secretly hope that perhaps one day we will see more of him. I certainly highly recommend this entire series.
Summary (from NetGalley)
It’s been a long journey for Alwyn Scribe. Born a bastard and raised an outlaw, he’s now a knight and the most trusted advisor to Lady Evadine Courlain. Together they’ve won countless battles and helped to bring order to a fractured kingdom. Yet Evadine is not the woman Alwyn once knew. As puritanical fury increasingly replaces her benevolent faith, Alwyn begins to question what her true motives really are. As the kingdom braces itself for one final battle, Alwyn’s conscience fights its own war with his heart. Now, more than ever, he must decide whose side he’s really on.
You can find out more about the Pariah and Anthony Ryan’s other books on his website: https://anthonyryan.net/
My thanks to Orbit Books for providing me an ARC book for review
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eBook in exchange for an honest review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Anthony Ryan, writer of fantasy, science fiction, and very occasional non-fiction.
After a long career in the British Civil Service I took up writing full time after the success of my first novel Blood Song, Book One of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy which has been purchased by Penguin US, published in July 2013. I also wrote the Draconis Memoria trilogy and the Raven’s Blade duology, the sci-fi noir series Slab City Blues, and The Seven Swords series of fantasy novellas.