A true adventure of self-discovery – the lesson being that the only way to find out who you are….is to take on a dangerous quest!
Author: Stephen Aryan
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Page Count: 400 pages
Thank you to Angry Robot Books, Stephen Aryan and Netgalley for providing the opportunity to review this novel. I received a copy of the novel in return for an honest review.
Within my reading I always love it when an author connects their book through a theme, bringing the novel together with a main concept. Within this book, Stephen Aryan has done a brilliant job with the main theme throughout this novel, underpinning it with each aspect of the story. The theme within this novel is obvious…it is the title of the novel – The Coward. This idea of having a main character who became an accidental hero, sung about across the five Kingdoms was fantastic, and it allowed Aryan to dive deep into his leading character, adding a richness to him that some books don’t always have time to do within their pages.
The story follows the renowned hero, Kell, who at the grand age of seventeen decided that it was time to put some hairs on his chest and join a group of hardened adventures to the great and frozen North. During this journey he accidentally managed to slay the dreaded Lich and return home as the sole survivor. A decade passed by and he has been once again called upon to revisit the frozen North and strap on his big boy boots. Kell pulls of the confident hero troupe brilliantly, managing to fool everyone around him, hiding the fact that he was and still is, in fact a coward. Kell was an engaging character, who went through many developments throughout the adventure. I absolutely loved how Aryan wrote Kell as a character, allowing the time to add layers to the character, keeping him interesting and evolving him into someone different from the start of the novel.
He wanted to forget the past, but he couldn’t. Not with time or drink. The memories were immovable and unyielding, like a perfectly formed diamond.The Coward, Stephen Aryan
Throughout the story, Kell is joined by a group of equally interesting friends, that unlike Kell chose to take on the quest, but for their own reasons. Each of the heroes has their own unique backstory and Aryan spends valued time on each of the characters, never neglecting any of them. There is Gerren, a boy of seventeen, desperate to replicate Kell’s original adventure. Vahli, who is a bard trying to create his own song using Kell as his inspiration but is also familiar with a blade…or two. Williow, a warrior from a species known as the Alfar, she is surrounded in mystery but determined to follow Kell into the North. Bronwyn is a fierce warrior-ess looking for the ultimate challenge and Malomir, an island King hiding from his role in the political issues within his own lands. Each of the characters are essential to the story, and I found myself enjoying each snippet from their own back stories, feeling as though I myself was part of the group. Gerren was my favourite character, his story acting as a perfect reflection of Kell’s first adventure, allowing us to glimpse thoughts and feelings that Kell himself must have felt when he first went out to the North. The two characters together allowed the story to deepen, whilst also providing some humorous moments.
The quest itself was intriguing, being shrouded in mystery, with the heroes themselves not knowing what they will find, only having Kell’s memories to serve as both a guide and a warning. The creatures were interesting and the constant sense of danger, kept me on my toes. The pacing of the book was great, introducing characters at a steady pace, allowing the story to stay fresh and interesting. Within the book their was also a religious part to the story, which I did enjoy, Aryan giving chapters to explore this within the novel. My only complaint is that I felt it was slightly disconnected from the main chapters, wishing that they were explored deeper or inter-woven into the story more. Maybe this is something that will be explored in the future sequels. The only other flaw I found with the story was the build up to the conclusion, not being as explosive as I had hoped it would be. It could be that I was expecting too much, but I felt the scenes previous to the end were bigger in scale. That isn’t to say the ending was disappointing, there were secrets and plot developments saved for the final moments which I did enjoy discovering.
Overall, I hugely enjoyed The Coward by Stephen Aryan and I highly pre-order your copy! I have given this book a solid 4/5 stars. If you would like to pre-order this novel, check out Broken Binding. An independent online book shop, specialising in all things fantasy and sci-fi. If you are quick, then you can snag a numbered signed edition, with a signed map! Plus you will be supporting a great author and book shop!
Alao check out my review from another series from Aryan: