The Traitor, the last installment of Anthony Ryan’s The Covenant of Steel, staked me through the heart. The ending of the previous book, The Martyr, left little doubt that the events of Alwyn Scribe’s life would be entering the heartbreak section of the trilogy when it ended with not only Alwyn sleeping with Evadine covered in the blood of a high-ranking Covenant member but the reveal the historian from the first scourge has spoken to a future Alwyn who revealed Evadine is of the Malecite. Many in the previous book had warned Alwyn and company that Evadine was not who she said she was, and I, as a reader, wanted to ignore those warnings just as Alwyn did. What results is a series of tragic events in The Traitor that Alwyn is constantly reminded he could have prevented.
As with The Pariah and The Martyr, alongside many Anthony Ryan books, the battles, though much less frequent in this book than the second, continue to balance realism and entertainment from his protagonist’s point of view. Ryan does not pull away the camera from the gruesomeness of a Middle Ages-like battle and what Alwyn has to do to survive. In the final book, those same well-written battles have a heftier emotional weight because they are against people Alwyn used to call friends and allies. Speaking of friends and allies, Alwyn and Evadine alone do not make these books so enjoyable. For the final book in this trilogy, the cast contains a multitude of familiar faces, some returning to help Alwyn, some betraying him, and others tragically dying. In a world with the death of a character so commonplace in many media of fiction, the ones in this book hit me surprisingly hard, which has to be commended to Anthony Ryan’s ability to make them lovable.
When describing the more arcane elements of Ryan’s books, I’ve often compared it to a full pitcher of the metaphorical worldbuilding drink. At first, you get a slight pour, then a cup, then a full-on tilt. The Pariah gave us that slight pour with the book containing Alwyn’s tale before it happened and the power of the Sack Witch to bring Evadine back. The Martyr filled our first cup by revealing to Alwyn how that book of his life was written and letting him witness the previous scourge in the land of the Caerith. The Traitor goes full tilt, unraveling many of the mysteries and origins of this world while creating new mysteries that’ll leave the mind racing to figure out what they may mean.
I believe many readers can relate to Alwyn’s situation though not his exact circumstance. Alwyn is learning someone he loves is not the person he thought they were, the aim of the organization he helped grow is not for the cause he believed in, and what he’s done to help both may have been the wrong decision. For us, it doesn’t involve a cyclical struggle of ancient good versus evil long prophecized, but to be fair, Alwyn in The Pariah would have never predicted this outcome either. Despite his suffering, Alwyn Scribe remains who he has been throughout the series, a mix of cynicism, snide remarks, petty anger, and jealousy alongside his bravery, loyalty, and willingness to do the ring thing even if it puts him in mortal danger. To show a protagonist grow and change in a trilogy without changing the core of who they are when they are introduced isn’t an easy feat to write, but The Covenant of Steel achieves that with Alwyn til the end.
The Traitor culminates everything that had come before it, not just for Alwyn and Evadine but everyone who followed the Risen Martyr and those who were against her from the start. It encapsulates Alwyn’s life as an outlaw, a soldier, a cynic, a believer, and just an overall fantastic character to read with an ending that’ll leave anyone who has followed his journey content. I have a weakness for framework devices, and Alwyn finishing telling his tale to us, the readers while leaving just a hint of a future yet to come, was a chef’s kiss moment to finish the series on.
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Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Orbit books.
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