Thank you so much to Angry Robot for hooking me up with a finished copy of The Coward by Stephen Aryan! The sequel, The Warrior, comes out August 9th and I’m excited to jump on the hype train for this duology before it ends!
That said, The Coward is a fast paced book with lower fantasy elements, good characters, decent world building, intricate plot, and a blessedly readable font size!
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: The Coward
- Series: Quest for Heroes #1
- Author: Stephen Aryan
- Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, June 2021
- Length: 432 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of epic quests told with a lighter hand
Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:
Who will take up the mantle and slay the evil in the Frozen North, saving all from death and destruction? Not Kell Kressia, he’s done his part…
Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened 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…
Oh Kell, aren’t you just a bucket of joy. Let’s talk about him first. I appreciated the anxiety/PTSD element of the character and how the author showed that Kell wasn’t ok after his first trip to the North. Many books throw heroes into quests and horrible situations without ever following up on the aftermath – so it was interesting to see that as a main plot point. Despite ten years to rest and recover, the experience haunts Kell. Would anyone ever want to be faced with that again? I enjoyed his redemption arc!
I liked the other characters too. Everyone in Kell’s party more or less volunteered for the mission. Each had their own mental and physical barriers to overcome and I enjoyed meeting the questing crew. It might have been nice to go a little deeper into each character, although I predict that only one of them is going to end up in the next book. The group worked and fought together well though, and there was enjoyable dialogue. Banter, not so much.
One thing I noticed was that the characters tended to pair off to talk and even to fight, more than interacting as a group, and I would have liked to see a little more of that bigger group aspect.
The overall pace was fairly quick. Aryan didn’t spend a lot of time bogging us down with details. The political plotting, religion, and lore were well described within reverend mother Britak’s chapters and that added a lot of depth to the world. I liked her chapters, she was a crafty old bat! The old folks were pretty ruthless in this book, between Britak and the old king that sent Kell on the quest – those two should have gotten right along.
The book had fairly good worldbuilding too. The religious lore ties into the plotline in more ways than one. There’s also weather, terrain, food, local customs, and descriptions of buildings among other things that add to the setting.
While parts of the book stayed pretty light, there was quite a bit of violence and darkness thrown in too. The fact that Aryan skirted along without spending too much time on any one topic kept it from becoming too heavy.
Where he really lost me was with his consistency at times – for example – in one chapter, a character’s leg becomes mangled. Shortly after the character was up and running along full speed. There is no way the characters could have accomplished so much with their injuries over such a short period of time. I’m also a reader who reads out loud in my head as I go so that typos really throw me out of my reading rhythm. For a third printing there were still a *lot*. It’s not a huge issue overall but tended to throw me out of immersion. Lastly, that slang! Some slang was like old English (Arse, cock, etc), although right at the start he was rife with the modern (fuck, shit) words.
I won’t lie that the book got off to a rough start for me but did, very quickly, redeem itself.
Ending on a good note – once the book gets going, it really gets going. I liked the battle scenes and emotional toll that kept the quest rolling forward. There was one source of magic in the book – and without spoilers, let’s say that I enjoyed everything associated with the Lich’s castle. I also hope to see more of the Alfár in the next book since they seem to be the “magical” race.
Overall – I enjoyed this book as an epic quest fantasy that isn’t as dense as others in the genre. I would definitely recommend for fans of books with lower fantasy elements who aren’t counting on a super involved world build and magic system. I think Kell become a real hero by the end of this book and I can’t wait to see how he handles the storm coming in the next installment.
Thanks again to AR for my finished copy, I hope to have a review for The Warrior coming in the next week!