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Book Review: Pariah by Anthony Ryan

Title: Pariah

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Covenant of Steel #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: 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? -Goodreads

The Review:

Pariah was my most-anticipated fantasy release of 2021. I was so excited… and I wished I’d liked it more.

A couple of things sort of sapped my enjoyment of this book. Things that may not bother others as much as they did me. For starters, the plot felt like it reset itself a couple of times throughout. Just as I was getting settled in with the characters and the situation, it would flip on its head and I’d have to start over again. Momentum in books is a huge component for me, and I didn’t feel as though this one carried any. It kept me feeling distant from the characters and apathetic about the plot. After all, what’s the point in getting attached to a story if we’re just going to flip directions again!

Even if the plot had maintained a trajectory and built on itself better, I still probably wouldn’t have liked the main character. I have come to realize that I crave characters who are catalysts of their own destiny. People who make things happen for themselves and who aren’t content to constantly drift back and forth on the whims of everyone around them. Now, granted, this is a story about an outcast, who understandably has a hell of a time getting anywhere with all of the obstacles in front of him. But to me, that prospect of a challenge can be even more exciting! I saw plenty of opportunities where the main character could’ve made things happen. Opportunities that wouldn’t have changed the story drastically, but would’ve upped my enjoyment considerably. Alas, that’s just not the character Ryan was shooting for, and it left me wanting.

To be fair, this next complaint is just a personal preference thing, and objectively I don’t hold it against the novel. But I cannot stand stories focused heavily on religious zealotry (a little is fine. Here it completely dominated the plot). Compound that with a passive character extremely susceptible to those ulterior machinations, and I found myself at the end of my patience very early on.

But I stuck with it, even though it was almost a DNF at only 50 pages to go. I finally realized I wasn’t interested in seeing what happened to the characters, I disliked the subject matter, and I was most likely going to pass on picking up the second book. It was hard to keep going. But I love this author for so many things that I made myself see it through to the end. There was some great stuff there for those who’ll like the book more than me, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.

This is very weird. I’ve been boasting Draconius Memoria as my all-time favorite fantasy series ever. Like, compared to literally every other series I’ve read, DM comes out on top. #1. The very best. The one I won’t shut up about.

So not enjoying Pariah makes me feel like I’m going to get kicked out of the Anthony Ryan fan club. I hope not. I still wildly appreciate this author, and I will continue to be excited about new books he has coming out… just maybe not Pariah’s sequel, Martyr, due out next year.

Recommendations: okay, so I didn’t love this one, but I still think it a book others will really dig. If you liked Ryan’s slow-burn character-driven novel like Blood Song and don’t have the same reading quirks I do about character roles, plot structures, and religious zealotry, then you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did. Also, don’t read what the book is about before diving in. The overview does what I hate most and gives major spoilers for things well into the book.

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