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What was Anthony Ryan thinking!

If you have seen the cover art for Anthony Ryan’s The Pariah, and you consume a lot of fantasy, you are probably wondering whether you read the novel years ago and forgot.

The design has become quite common of late (a hooded stranger sitting cross-legged with a sheathed sword balancing on their knees).
Snakewood by Adrian Selby is the first book that comes to mind. I thought The Pariah was an older novel. But I just did a quick Google search, and apparently, it came out in 2021.

You can blame my confusion on the writing style. One Goodreads review that could not stop gushing about the novel praised it for having a little bit of everything, from politics and religion to epic battles and a character you can root for.

That last bit is a lie. Alwyn is not a character you can root for. In fact, I would not have cared if he died in the first three chapters. But the other aspects are correct. You have a healthy dose of religion, politics, and action.

Although, that is not necessarily a compliment. Anthony Ryan’s novel is highly generic grimdark. The best authors can spin gold out of cliched concepts. Anthony is a skilled author with over a dozen books under his name.

However, The Pariah is not his best work. It reminds me of fantasy novels from the 1980s with predictable structures that modern writers deliberately veer away from because they want to subvert expectations.

The protagonist, Alwyn, is an outcast fighting a daily battle to survive in a kingdom ravaged by war. Deckin rules his crew with an iron fist, and Alwyn is determined to prove his worth to the so-called outlaw king, even if it means cheating, stealing, and killing.

When a vicious betrayal destroys Deckin’s ambitions, Alwyn is forced to embrace a new life outside the outlaw king’s protection while navigating a destiny pitting him against dark forces he can barely comprehend. Now, that description probably piqued your interest, especially the bit about the dark forces.

And maybe The Pariah eventually delivers on the promise of that synopsis. I can’t tell you because I could not finish it. But before you argue that it gets better later, I read roughly 65 per cent of this book. Others gave up after 100 pages. I persevered until I realized that I was literally hate-reading this book.

The reading experience was not fun. I just wanted to see what happens at the end. And then I realized that life was too short to read books you don’t enjoy.

To be clear, The Pariah is not bad. Anthony is a great writer. His characters are distinct and well-developed, with clear arcs. The setting is fully realized and lived in. In fact, I can’t even knock the story; I think newcomers will enjoy it.

But if you read a lot of fantasy, The Pariah offers nothing new. Also, Anthony is annoyingly verbose. He doesn’t know how to get to the point. Every action scene feels slow and clunky because Anthony keeps slowing or outrightly killing the momentum to provide some pointless nugget of information that adds nothing of significance to the scene.

His writing style is not my cup of tea. Also, Alwyn is a bland protagonist. Grimdark protagonists are appealing because they are so charming and likable. But they keep misbehaving, and you feel conflicted because you want to cheer them on, but their actions compel you to hate them.

Alwyn is as dull and forgettable as they come. So, whenever he took a wrong turn, I was more than happy to hate him. I would still recommend The Pariah because, again, it is not bad. It just feels dated and predictable.


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