THE PARIAH by Anthony Ryan.
Orbit Books. h/b. £20.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Alwyn is an outlaw, skilled and hardened to this life under the tutelage of Deckin Scarl, Outlaw King of the Shavine Marches. Outlaw King. Not a true king, though he harbours desires of becoming a nobleman. To Alwyn, Deckin is a leader and teacher and the only family he needs.
In disguise as a lame, smelly pauper, Alwyn knows his appearance will be more than efficient to disgust the royal guards while the outlaws intercept a royal messenger riding fresh from battle. Deckin may not tell him everything the letter contains, but Alwyn is sharp – sharper than some give him credit for – and he gleans enough to know that the pretender king’s war is not over yet.
It is nearly winter when the strange trespassers appear in Deckin’s forest. Skardryken – warriors from southern Ascarlia. Fortunately, Alwyn has a great knack for being able to tell when someone is lying, and Berrine, the Ascarlian girl, is definitely hiding something. Translator, she may be, but something else too. Alwyn’s life as a comfortable outlaw is about to change.
The Pariah follows Alwyn’s story from that encounter in his time as an outlaw, reminiscent of a young ‘merry man’ to Deckin’s Robin Hood, and forward through time to his role as a scribe via encounters with foreigners, ruffians, noblemen, preachers, prison guards and the occasional deviant and liar. Narrated solely by Alwyn, the story through his eyes is coloured with wry humour and very human justifications for his actions.
As you would expect from Ryan, this is a lengthy tome, and it will definitely be one to add to the ‘read again’ pile, knowing that the reading will be richer the second time. The characterisation is excellent, with even the most minor characters taking on life with vibrancy and impact. Action drives the narrative, with worldbuilding and backstory this time left to a minimum. This is definitely one for those who like their fantasy and their protagonists set against a brutal landscape and always moving forward.