The Coward

By Stephen Aryan

The Coward, a novel by Stephen Aryan
Book details Books in the series

When I think about heroism I often think about the conversation between Cat and Rimmer in Red Dwarf. There‘s an old cat proverb that goes, "It's better to live one hour as a tiger than an entire lifetime as a worm.” There's an old human proverb - "Whoever heard of a worm-skin rug?" I am with Rimmer on this one, better alive with a bruised ego, than in a hero’s grave. Kell Kressia already went on his quest and was the only survivor and he refuses to go on another. Some would call him The Coward, other may just call him The Sensible. 

Ten years ago, the land was threatened by an eternal winter. A band of hardened warriors headed North to kill the Ice Lich. Along for the ride was the inexperienced Kell, who refused to leave their side. Kell was the only survivor. He may be known as a legend, but fame does not stop the nightmares and all he wants to do is be left alone to farm his land, but the last two seasons have been chilly and there is only one man that the King wants to head back up North. 

In my youth, fantasy novels would often follow what felt like the similar pattern of an everyday ordinary teenager being sent on a quest. Over the next 3 to 10 novels, they became the hero. Reading about 17-year-olds can get a little tiresome when you are now far older than that. Therefore, it is great to read The Coward as this is a book about how Kell is no longer that boy and is also not the man that people seem to think he is. 

The story is set in Kell’s present, but flashes back to moments of his original quest. Stephen Aryan never falls into the trap of staying in the past too long, this is a book about a man reflecting on what has gone before, it is not about the events themselves. The years weigh heavy on Kell and that gives the book a moodier feel. This is not downbeat but is a little cynical. I could sympathise with Kell’s point of view and many other older fantasy fans will to. 

The theme of cowardness crops up a lot in the book and not only in the title. What is the nature of cowardness and bravery? Is it cowardly to fear something that you know is likely to kill you? Kell finds himself clashing with some characters as they are unable to marry the idea of his legend with the person they see before them. The book works because Kell never pretends to be anything other than himself. Let others think as they wish, he knows what he saw, and he knows what fear really is. 

Along with the interesting themes, there is a great fantasy book. A good old-fashioned quest is still in this book, just told from a slightly different perspective. We meet new races, and the heroes must fight against the odds to kill various monsters. You could read the book as a straightforward fantasy and still have a great time, but it would be a shame to miss the nuances.   

Like many fantasy books, The Coward is part of a series, but what makes the next outing so exciting is that it will be very different from the first. Events conspire to place Kell in a very different position and all the wonderful world building that Aryan smuggles in throughout the book will come to the fore. The Coward is one of the most enjoyable fantasy novels I have read in recent years. It has all the action and comradery of a classic fantasy outing, but it is told with a cynicism that is frankly refreshing. Who like a do-gooder hero anyway? Give me some one a little messed up like Kell any day.  

Written on 4th June 2021 by .

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