The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Firstly, a huge thank you to Caroline and Angry Robot Books for sending me a copy of The Coward in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Publication Date:
08/06/2021
Length: 412 pages
Genre:
Fantasy

CW: violence

Blackwells.co.uk

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of grizzled fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.


Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.


For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…

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Review

I was hooked by the very first page and stayed completely absorbed in the novel for the entire time I was reading it. The entire book was a delight to read and filled with humour, tension and a great band of characters who really brought the story to life. 

I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy of late and one of the things that really stood out to me about this book was about how heroes are portrayed and their adventures. I love how, throughout the novel, you’re made to think about the heroes outside of their adventure and the tales told by the bards. Kell was the only hero to survive ten years ago and the only one alive who knows exactly what happened when he set off with eleven others to slay the Ice Lich. Not only does Kell still suffer from the horrors of what he saw, but also lives with a conflict of what the rest of the heroes were really like compared to how everyone believes them to be. 

One of my favourite tropes is ‘the reluctant hero’ which Kell embodies wonderfully. I especially loved the contrast between Kell and the people he seems to collect as he travels. Gerren is the enthusiastic young man, determined to prove himself the way Kell did ten years ago and I thought his inclusion was very clever of Aryan. In fact, all of the characters each brought something special and unique to the novel. I was interested in all of them as individuals as well as how they interacted with each other too. The fact that we gradually learn about them throughout the novel is also incredibly engaging which resulted in some brilliant reveals towards the climax of the book. 

Whilst the novel primarily focuses on Kell and his crew, we do get the occasional snippet of what is happening in the wider world, particularly what the Reverend Mother is up to. I loved the addition of these scenes as it illustrated how the stories of one man can cause such conflict and trouble in other areas. Although I didn’t like the Reverend Mother, I was fascinated by her and was genuinely excited to see what nefarious things she would get up to next. I was incredibly impressed with the way that Aryan would include worldbuilding through the actions of the characters, and how we could learn so much about kingdom politics just from the occasional chapter scattered amongst the action. This also worked really well in terms of pacing, it’s a fast paced, action-packed, novel but we do get the occasional rest either through the more political chapters or through the group finally catching some kind of (short-lived) break; which only made it even easier to race through this novel. 

There is so much more I want to say about this novel but there are so many twists and turns in it, I think if I continue on that I may end up saying too much about the plot! 

Overall, this is an incredible novel which filled me with joy with every page, even during the tense scenes. I loved spending time with all of these wonderful characters and I’m still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I have finished the book and have to wait for the sequel! The ending revelations were so satisfying and have left me desperate for more! In the meantime I’m going to have to check out the rest of Aryan’s bibliography…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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