Anthony Ryan has a gift. A gift for writing war and mysticism then entangling the two together so you cannot have one without the other. In the fantasy genre, war has become rather tiresome. Yet, whenever Ryan writes a new battle, he has me intrigued, glued to my book until the battle is won or lost. In The Martyr, the follow-up to The Pariah, the first book in the Covenant of Steel series, Ryan fully transforms Alwyn Scribe from an outlaw into a soldier and a warrior. I approached this path with some skepticism, as I had already walked this path with Ryan and his previous lead Vaelin Al Sorna. Still, the author writes Alwyn with authenticity to the character I loved in the first book but with new goals, skills, moral quandaries, and conflicts.
The Covenant’s political machinations, the lands’ religion, and King Tomas’s involvement with Evadine and her company comprise much of the opening chapters. Their intrigue doubles so as the future Alwyn, the book’s narrator describes how history will reflect differently on these moments than how they actually happened as opposed to what history will say happened. Ultimately, political maneuvers from the crown and the faith lead Evadine and company into two sieges. A well-written siege can show how terrifying they can be, but a poorly written one can bore you to tears. Alwyn, who takes part in a siege from both sides, shows his cunning and tactics applied to the battlefield. Much to his chagrin, he transforms from a former outlaw with some soldiering under his belt to a leader in the process. In The Martyr, these many battles are where introductions are made to a new cast of characters. At first, they didn’t hook me as Deckin’s band of thieves or the prisoners of the Pit Mines, as each seemed like just another new soldier joining Evadine’s company. Still, they all began to grow on me as Alwyn learned about them outside of battle. By the end, I became invested in what their future foretold.
By the end of the book, Alwyn’s odyssey has taken him from an outlaw to a soldier to a leader. But, despite being given more legality to do, he finds the deaths more and more objectionable. He has a gift for hearing lies in other people but refuses to acknowledge the lies he tells himself. An inner conflict is growing within him throughout The Martyr between what he believes his mentor Ascendant Sihlda would have wanted for him after escaping the Pit Mines and his loyalty out of increasing affection for Evadine. However, that is all that happens to Alwyn in this book. Often the protagonist who wields a sword so often learns how to use it well in the first book, such as the case with Ryan’s previous main character Vaelin Al Sorna. The author takes the novel approach of having Alwyn be only passable at the martial arts of war until getting training quite close to the climax of this book, the second in the series. Even then, he gets his ass handed to him repeatedly as part of his training to master the sword. Funnily enough, in both significant scenes at the tail end of the book, when he would have used it, he does not and cannot, which is a twist of irony I eat right up.
Based on Alwyn’s narration of his own story, the ending is one I expected but still a delightful revelation to muck up everyone’s future, including his. Though heavy on battle in the front half, The Martyr is a fantastic follow-up to last year’s The Pariah. It provides plenty of hints about The Traitor, the third book in the Covenant of Steel series, to leave the readers hungry for it. The series continues with what Ryan writes best: tales of war, political intrigue, and mysticism shrouded in mystery. Alwyn Scribes leans more on his cunning than his physical abilities, and I can’t wait to see where that will take him going forward.
Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Orbit books.
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