REVIEW: The Traitor by Anthony Ryan

The Traitor completes Anthony Ryan’s (Blood Song, Red River Seven, Raven’s Shadow ) excellent The Covenant of Steel trilogy. Set in a medieval inspired fantasy world full of battle and religious fervour, The Traitor continues the chronicles of Alwyn Scribe following on from The Pariah and The Martyr. Alwyn’s path from outlaw to knight continues as he supports Lady Evadine Courlain and tries to bring order to a fractured kingdom.

The TraitorThe Traitor continues Alwyn’s evolution as a character and it is his growth and awareness that anchors this story as he becomes aware of the dangers of the power held by those close to him. Alwyn is faced with the difficulty of seeing someone who is revered and worshipped being corrupted by the power and faith placed in them and it puts him in the tough position of having to question what he feels is right not just for himself but for the kingdom as a whole. The Traitor focuses on the cult of personality around Lady Evadine and the dangers that come with her growing power and the blind faith around her. With the nature of Alwyn narrating, he has an awareness of where he has gone wrong and of the poor decisions he has made that led to fatal consequences for some of his allies. This form of narration (also pulled off to perfection in Matthew Harffy’s A Time for Swords) provides a level of suspense as the reader is aware that though Alwyn is alive, his actions often impact on those around him, as seen in the previous novels, and Ryan is certainly not shy at killing off important characters when needed to drive the plot forward and add that level of uncertainty needed for the big set pieces in the novel.

Fans of the series will know that Ryan does not hide from the brutality of battles and war. Alwyn lives in a dark, murky world where life is harsh and change only comes through blood, sweat and tears – The Traitor is no different. Though this is Alwyn’s story, Ryan gives him a group of morally grey characters to support him on his path and they are all written well and fleshed out to a point where readers will feel a sense of dread whenever they are placed in danger. At times they bring humour to the dark tale as well as adding another layer of humanity to Alwyn’s character as we see the relationships build throughout the story and this is something that Ryan has perfected throughout the trilogy. He has managed to create a story chronicled by one character who has grown through the relationships and interactions that he has had across a long, turbulent period of time. It is, in my opinion, Anthony Ryan’s best work yet and it is a world that I would love to return to.

The Traitor wraps up The Covenant of Steel trilogy in satisfying fashion (with room for more…). A fantastically brutal medieval fantasy story told by one of the best characters in the genre. A grim tale, a dark world, and interesting characters filling every corner of it – this is Anthony Ryan’s best work yet and one of the best novels of 2023.

Read The Traitor by Anthony Ryan

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Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones

Aaron S. Jones is the author of Memories of Blood and Shadow, and The Broken Gods trilogy. He is Head of School at a school in Kent, UK and when he is not tearing his hair out at students struggling with their, they're and there, he is tearing his hair out as he dies for the thousandth time on Elden Ring. You can find him on Twitter @HereticASjones where he is most likely procrastinating for hours at a time instead of focusing on his Orc murder mystery.