The Coward

Book I of the Quest for Heroes

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Pub Date 08 Jun 2021 | Archive Date 03 May 2021

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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...
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...

Advance Praise

"Stephen Aryan puts the epic into Epic Fantasy."

– Den Patrick, author of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

"Aryan's battle scenes are visceral masterpieces that transport the reader deep into the melee."

Taran Matharu, author of the Summoner series

"Stephen Aryan puts the epic into Epic Fantasy."

– Den Patrick, author of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

"Aryan's battle scenes are visceral masterpieces that transport the reader deep into the...

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ISBN 9780857668882
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Featured Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the arc copy of The Coward by Stephen Aryan.

A land of five cities, and five kinds, is alive with intrigue. For the past ten years Kell Kressia has shrugged off his hero status and been a farmer far from wealth and glory. Now the cold is coming back and Kressia has been summoned before the king. We follow Kell on this fantastic journey and learn about what really makes a hero.

Aryan builds a world that comes to life. As you are taken through the different kingdoms you start to become aware that not is all as it seems, this is not simply a hero journey. The Coward keeps you reading and on the edge of your seat with an ending that leaves me waiting impatiently for the next book.

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I absolutely loved the author’s previous books (two trilogies) and was delighted to get an early look at this one (thanks NetGalley).
The title is a slight misnomer. Kell Kressia is not a coward, more someone who would rather not die on an obvious suicide mission. As a naive young man he tagged along with a group of heroes to defeat evil in the frozen North. More by luck than judgement he was the only survivor and was treated like a hero on his return, despite PTSD from the horror of the trip. Ten years later he is asked to go back and resolve another outbreak of bad stuff, he doesn’t want to leave his small farm and he definitely doesn’t want to go through his previous horrors again.
But as circumstanced thwart his plans to head in the opposite direction, he accepts his fate and heads north, picking up a small group of misfits as he goes. He is pretty sure none of them are coming back.
At a superficial level this is a quest story. Group band together and head off to thwart evil or die trying. But as with his previous books, the author starts building extra things into his world building. History, Gods, politics, secrets and a Church that is up to no good.
Lots of moving parts going on around our simple suicide mission and it all comes together nicely at the end of the book where things are resolved but there are enough hints of a great second book to come.
Really enjoyed this.

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This is a very good book and you should get it.

At 17, Kell went off on a quest with 11 extraordinary heroes of the 5 Kingdoms to battle, on the frozen fields of the North, the Ice Lich, a powerful magical creature that has spread famine throughout the land. Only he returned.

10 years later, there are signs that the Ice Lich is back and that the famine may return. Kell is forced, by political machinations, to travel North and do battle with the Lich again. Now, Krell is not the immature, inexperienced butt of jokes by the heroes but a young man of 27, with a severe case of PTSD in remission from the first quest and leader of a new set heroes.

For creatures there are has vorans, garrows, maglau and polar bears. Besides humans there are other sentient creatures who may be kind of human - Alfar, Choate. Qalamieren and Frostrunners. There's even a Reverend Mother - for political intrigue.

This is an action filled fast-paced, red meat plot. Wonderful character development. You can really bury your dagger up to the hilt in this story. To mix metaphors, Mr. Aryan hit it out of the park with this one.

From now on, when someone asks for a recommendation, with a steely glint in my eyes, I'll just say The Coward.

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I really, really enjoyed reading this one, even staying up late to finish! I thought just about everything was good about it. It's 4.5 stars, but I rounded up since I enjoyed it so much.

The plot was pretty good. I do feel there are some questions still left unanswered here that I hope to see answered in the next book.

I enjoyed the characters. I thought the title was a bit of a misnomer. I expected the main character to be a bit more of a coward than he was. Instead, we got someone who was pragmatic about not wanting to die. Seems sensible to me

The pacing was good with lots of fighting by both evil monsters and evil humans. One of the problems with the fights was the recovery times on injuries and how they kept fighting a day or two later even with broken ribs or stab wounds. I'm not sure that's so realistic.

There were some genuine laugh out loud funny moments. And overall, this was just an enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to the next one and seeing what happens.

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I have not read either of the authors previous trilogies so went into this book with no expectations, this is a book in the style (I use that word as a compliment) of David Gemmel, it has rich characterisation and world building with a healthy dose of action, intrigue and Machiavellian scheming thrown in for good measure, I am not sure I want to go back and read the previous trilogies but I do want to go forward and read the next books in this series

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At the very least, a good fantasy story should allow you to escape the often dreadfully predictable bonds of the everyday and escape into a world that’s nothing like the one you see on your daily commute or when you’re in a queue at a shop in the mall.

But the really good ones, such as Stephen Aryan’s The Coward (the first volume in the Quest For Heroes series), do so much more.

In short, much like skillfully executed science fiction, they shine a light on the human condition and on society as a whole in such a way that you are forced to reassess what it is you think on a particular issue, or issues, as is the case with this superlative piece of fantastical storytelling.

Take just one idea which sits at the heart of The Coward – precisely what is a hero? Are they even real or are they simply very ordinary, fallible people who we build into extraordinarily mythic figures because we need more than ourselves to believe in?

Aryan argues that is very much the latter, with both hero and worshipper caught in a ceaseless pattern that fulfills separate needs for both parties – for the hero a sense of validation and the worshiper the chance to invest life with far more meaning than might be readily apparent.

This is not to say, of course, that heroes don’t genuinely do heroic things or that the people who hold them in awe aren’t justified in doing so.

Aryan rather beautifully doesn’t besmirch the idea of heroes so much as attempts, rather brilliantly, in fact, to restore some perspective to what it means to be a hero and how this laudably good act can actually have some dark and terrible consequences on those whom society chooses to place upon a pedestal.

The person upon whom this great weight of celebrity and expectation rests is Kell Kressia, who a decade ago at the tender age of seventeen rashly rushed to join 11 heroes of great renown who were headed north to kill the Ice Lich in its frozen castle in order to save the Five Kingdoms from an eternal winter.

Only he returned alive, and while he is celebrated in song by a famous composition by Pax Madina the bard, he bears terrible physical and emotional scars from his great quest north and has barely recovered after spending the time since working his family’s small backwater farm.

By any estimation, Kell has suffered an acute and debilitating case of post-traumatic stress disorder, one so severe that it came close to ruining his life and so when he is all but ordered by the King of Algany, one of the Five Kingdoms, his immediate reaction is to take the money, pretend to go north and then escape to lands far his own and start a new life.

He is branded by Gerren, a young man who follows him solely on the mystique and glories of the bard’s tale, as a coward when it becomes obvious that the man cannot possibly match up to the hype, and in fact, simply wants to escape it all and leave the Five Kingdoms to their eventual peril.

Quite what happens after this is best left to the reading, but suffice to say that The Coward empathetically, insightfully, and movingly explores what it is like to be branded a hero and yet only feel like a broken, sad, and fallen man.

As well as telling a breathtakingly excitingly but very groundedly human tale of one man’s wholly reluctant quest to save the world as he knows it, Aryan’s novel also impressively tackles the realpolitik surrounding Kell’s mission.

Sadly, much as we would like to believe otherwise, no great act of heroics is ever truly separated from the underhand machinations of those watching on from the sidelines, and while in the case of Kell’s enemies in the Five Kingdoms, such as Reverend Mother Brasik who heads the church of the Shepherd with ruthless Inquisitional efficiency and terrifyingly cruel religious zealotry, they have much to lose if he fails to stop the great ice evil in the north, they still do everything in their power to undercut him.

If ever you wondered if the world is a lost and broken place, then you’ll find confirmation it really is as Kell’s quest come hard up against the base political machinations of those who are both for and against him.

And yet for all these artfully explained and deliberated upon serious themes, which explored an affecting look at how completely disparate people can come together to form a close and caring found family, their lives transformed by the experience, The Coward is also a rollicking good adventure.

A thoughtfully intense one yes, with a lot on its artfully expressed mind, but an adventure nonetheless, albeit one where everyone has their feet firmly planted firmly on the frozen ground, one eye on the gaping deficiencies in their own lives and their other on those who might, quite unexpectedly, relieve them of that burden. (It also muses on who the real monsters are – the snowy terrors of the frozen north or the people plotting in sunnier, warmer climes.)

Much like The Lord of the Rings, which was grand and epic in the scope of its adventure and yet well aware of the weight of the darkness that darks all of us and the world around us, The Coward is a magnificently enthralling tale that regales you with creatures of terrifying ice and mist, heroic battles to stay alive and finish the quest, and the tight bonds that form between people when their backs are well and truly against the sub-zero wall.

A fantasy with considerable heart, a knowing sense of the truth of things, and a willingness to peek behind the myth and legend to the cold, hard reality of what it means to be human (or otherwise) and caught up in the messily contrary and exacting business of being alive, The Coward is a brilliantly good read, a novel that seizes the imagination, hold the heart close and stares hard into the soul, all the while reminding us that we can hold adventure and terror in balance and perhaps this is the very inescapable stuff of being human.

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I received an eARC from Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated for this review other than the book, and all opinions are my own.

This book follows Kell Kressia. At 17 years old he sets out with a band of heroes to kill the Lich that has placed a curse on the 5 kingdoms. Kell is the only one who returns and is branded a new hero. 10 years later famine has returned and is asked to go back to see what is causing the dread over the land and take care of it.

The book is called Coward which i find a bit misleading. Kell survived and was branded a hero and when asked to return he is afraid of dying, not of the mission. He originally wants to hide from the task but along the way picks up several misfits to help him on his journey to complete the mission..

I loved the book. and the world that Aryan built within the story. The main characters all had flaws but they way they were written, you fell in love with each one.. I felt there were times that were slow describing some of the political aspects within the book and there were a lot of characters within the 5 kingdoms. I sometimes had to go back to figure out which king and which country we were reading about. Overall I would recommend this book and I would buy it if I saw it in the store.

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This book reminded me of Gemmell's Legend or, more recently, Rothfuss' Name of the Wind in that it focuses on the reality behind the mythic heroes. Nobody wants to know that their heroes fart but they do and this book examines the reality from different perspectives. All of our heroes join the adventure for different reasons and all of them see themselves- and their companions- differently as well. From the start of their journey to the finish, the real question is: who is actually the titular Coward and what makes someone such?

There are a lot of tropes here but they're well done and, really, sometimes it's hard to avoid but being able to write it in an original way makes up for a lot. The characters are really well rounded, the environments interesting- I was a little underwhelmed by the religious subplot but I imagine it will have more focus in future books of the series. It's important to me, in a GRRM and Jordan world to point out that while this is apparently the initial entry of a series, it does work as a standalone so if that would hold you back from reading it, don't let it.

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I was given the opportunity to review an ARC from Netgalley for an unbias review. When I heard this book was coming out and I read the description, it sounded right up my alley. No one talks about the horrors these characters go through on an adventure, did Frodo have PTSD at the end of the journey with the ring? Did Druss wake up with nightmares after Legend? Seeing this premise with a whole cast of new characters, a group of heroes was very well done. Each character diversified enough to keep them interesting, even with their mini POVs. Kell is a convincing hero and it's really fun to see his evolution about going back into the field.

Every book with multiple POVs has that one character you don't really care for (at least in my case). The main antagonist didn't quite blend enough for me, but it did help in the world building. I look forward to the sequels!

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Kell Kressia was a cocky seventeen-year-old when he found out that the heroes he idolized were traveling North to battle an Ice Lich. The Lich's power was spreading devastation across the land. So they went North to battle the Lich and save the world. Through dumb luck, Kell was the only one who returned.

At the beginning of the story, it's been ten years since Kell defeated the Ice Lich. Despite being celebrated as the Savior of the Five Kingdoms, life hasn't been easy for him. So, when the King calls on Kell to lead another expedition to fight the Ice Lich again, there's no way he's going back. Kell's not making the same mistake twice. He's no hero.

And so starts Stephen Aryan's epic fantasy novel, "The Coward."

Unlike a lot of epic fantasy stories, the heroes in this tale are all too human. The heroes in this story are very brave, but if you actually got to know them, you probably wouldn't like them very much. But the people of the Five Kingdoms didn't want to hear the unvarnished truth about their heroes. They only want to hear the epic, idealized version of their heroes from the ballad they all know so well.

One the themes of this novel is the very human cost of the heroic deeds from those ballads. On their journey north a decade before, Kell witnessed firsthand the terrible personal price the heroes paid, the food poisoning, the nightmares, the catastrophic injuries and the fear everyone felt. No one was immune to any of that. Not the green 17 year old and not the most hardened veteran.

But the question I was left with this: who is the coward from the title? Was it really Kell?

Everyone's afraid at some point in their lives. Some people are even afraid all the time. But does that fear that make them a coward? Isn't a hero someone who feels the fear but goes out to fight anyway? I think the book should have been called "The Hero," instead.

My main complaint with this book is that It had a slow start. There was a lot of set up & world building at the beginning. I was also a bit impatient to get through scenes that were from other POVs: I love Kell's character and wanted to stick with his story.

But I stuck with it because I really wanted to find out what was going to happen to Kell: I'm so glad I did.

After about the 50% mark, I literally could not put this book down. I stayed up until 1 AM to finish it and I have no regrets. It might have started out a bit slow, but it had one hell of a finish.

Overall, I loved this book. It was a great story with some great characters and a richly detailed world. The fights were great and really kept me on the edge of my seat (and sleep deprived!).

Angry Robot Books and Netgalley provided an advanced review copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. And I honestly loved it.
It's not a perfect book, but it gets a solid 4.6 out of 5 stars from me! (rounding up to 5)..

I can't wait to read the next one! So, get cracking Stephen!

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This was a really good story, a wonderful epic full of deeply fleshed characters and just enough drama and magic to keep the pace. The writing was well done, descriptive and easy to imagine. It didn't take long for me to become fully absorbed in Kell and his life.

I will say that some of the emotional pay off fell a little flat. Things were resolved almost too easily or not at all.

I also found that in some places the story of Kell and the heroes went on so long that the other, juxtaposing storylines were forgotten, felt misplaced and didn't fully intermingle, but I'm curious about the threats they'll pose to coming books.

But overall this was a very enjoyable read and I look forward to future novels.

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A heartwarming, engaging and fun fantasy adventure!

The Coward is the first book in the Quest of Heroes series, and is the first book I have read by Stephen Aryan. After seeing the beautiful cover and reading the synopsis, I knew I had to read it.

The Coward follows Kell Kressia, who is a legend and a celebrity. Kell gained his status after going on a quest, when he was only 17 years old, and killed the Ice Lich. Thereby secured peace in the Five Kingdoms. However, 10 years after this epic quest, a new terror is threatening and the King wants to send Kell to defeat this evil, but Kell Kressia is not planning on going. He has already done his part.

The Coward follows the ‘quest trope’, which I typically do not enjoy reading. However, Aryan sets up the plot incredibly well, making the reader engaged in Kell’s story from the first page. Kell is such a relatable, stubborn and funny character that I thoroughly enjoyed following. Furthermore, the reader is given hints that there is more to Kell’s story than meets the eyes. The Coward has some truly memorable characters, which will pull at the reader’s heartstring. My favourite characters were definitely Kell and Gerren!

The Coward also focuses on the harsh reality of being depicted as a ‘hero’. Aryan masterfully displays that even heroes have weaknesses and imperfections, and society’s unrealistic expectations of these ‘heroes’ can lead to disastrous consequences.

This book reads and feels much like a standalone, although there are some plotlines that are not properly concluded. If you do not want to commit to the whole series, then you can absolutely just read The Coward.
My main criticism is that the section from 50% - 85% focuses a bit too much on action/battles for my taste. While the first half of the book focuses a lot on setting up the plot, building character relationship and on world-building, the second half is much more action-focused. Although I do not mind a bit of action, some of the scenes just felt a bit random or forced. There are at least three battle scenes that our cast are just suddenly thrown into (it makes sense in the story) which made the plot feel a bit repetitive. However, The Coward has a satisfying conclusion, which I appreciate.

In conclusion, The Coward is an enjoyable read with a memorable protagonist, great characters and an interesting world. The Coward takes a honest look at, what it means to be a hero and how all humans have imperfections. If you do not enjoy the ‘quest trope’ then you might not enjoy this book, but I would still recommend giving this book a try.

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Kell has an epic ballad named after him chronicling the quest he took part in ten years ago. This legend has haunted him, but living in a quiet village has allowed him to put it in the past. That is until he is summoned to see the king and sent on a similar mission to find out if the nightmare from ten years ago has returned and is affecting the seasons.

At first Kell intends to take the money and run, but he ends up gathering a band of heroes each with their own reason to complete the quest. Unknown to Kell he also has protection from an old friend and the king has sent his own agent.

Well written, perfectly balanced between a full action story and the empathy to illustrate that Kell is more than just a washed-up fighter. I look forward to seeing how Kell deals with his next challenge.

I am a huge fan of traditional heroic fantasy, from David Gemmell to James Barclay and The Coward fits the bill perfectly.

My thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I mostly enjoyed this book! I had a few hangups that stopped me from giving it a full five stars, but overall I enjoyed my time with my first book by Stephen Aryan. I was concerned when I started this ARC that it would be full of ball jokes and edgy humor, but once things started moving, I was really interested to see what was going to happen.

Kell, Ice Lich-slayer of 10 years ago, suffers from, basically, PTSD from his trip to the frozen north, and a hefty dose of imposter syndrome. His inclusion on the original venture was unplanned, and despite his realization that heroes aren't necessarily the best of people still sees himself as being unequal to the company he kept. They went north, everyone died on the trip except him, he came back the sole survivor and victor after slaying the Ice Lich. Now, 10 years later, some signs are emerging that the Ice Lich may have returned, and the kings turn to Kell to save them all again -- only he doesn't particularly want to go there again, thanks.

I thought Kell was an interesting anti-hero in the beginning. He makes it clear he doesn't want to go, is basically bribed into going, and drags his feet the entire first part of the book before him and his recruited group of fellow adventurers actually go north. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the author had stuck with this anti-hero characterization, but once north, it seems like Kell changed into a father figure, an advisor, and a jaded hero who just wants to help everybody out. I can understand wanting to put old ghosts to rest, so to speak, but it really felt a bit like he changed from how Kell was set up in the beginning.

Another hangup I had involved the second viewpoint that we get to see periodically throughout the book. Britak, who I didn't mention in my writeup above, is the head religious figure for a large chunk of the kingdoms. Her POV doesn't really overlap with Kell's at all, which makes the book not really work as a standalone book in my opinion. You have two separate stories being told, one a compelling adventure to (re-)slay the Ice Lich, and the other a religious zealot's memoir as she checks in on her religious empire periodically. I can see where the author is setting up for something in later books, but I honestly felt a little bored reading through Britak's parts.

The bones of a really great story are here, though! I really liked Kell's story of his band of new heroes retracing his steps north, and the various problems they face along the way. I thought the writing style was a little more straightforward than I generally like, but the descriptions were great and I felt like the main characters at least were written well enough that they didn't feel like copies of each other.

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This book is an ode to heroism. To the real one. Not what we bookworms often read about in books.

For once, the hero is not without blemish and without fear. Nonetheless, Kell, despite what the title suggests, is not a coward. He is an ordinary man who discovered the hard way that epic deeds may have a reverse of the medal made of loss and grief and haunting remorses. And now, after ten years, he is forced to face the demons of his past he so long wished to be buried.

Even though it's a little slow-paced, the great characters (tridimensional and, above all, utterly 'human'), the richly detailed world and the web of secret political plots intrigued me and made me look forward to seeing what happens in the next instalment(s).

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The coward, first book in the Quest for Heroes series follows the life of Kell Kressia, who was the legendary hero that did the impossible in the past and now the King has summoned him to do another of his miracle once again. But only Kell knows the truth about his impossible deed he achieved in the past. Will the miracle happen again ?!

This book was definitely a fun read. The reluctant hero trope was executed neatly, the political aspects, detailed action sequences and wide supporting characters made this book a fine read and hyped me up for the sequel....

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I received “The Coward” by Stephen Aryan from the publisher as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I loved everything about the premise of this book. Following a character after their big heroic adventure has always intrigued me. What happens after the fame and when they get home? This story gives you an idea, and it’s not all wonderful and happy as one would expect. While that aspect isn’t quite unique, what made me love this story was the characters that ended up accompanying Kell, the main character who was a hero before and is now called to face new dangers that are cropping back up and threatening the land. I liked how the story weaved his previous heroism into the story in such a natural way that even though you learned a lot, it never felt like an information dump.

As I read, I thought that I had an idea of where the story was going or what was going to happen next, and was pleasantly surprised that the book kept me on my toes! Overall, I really enjoyed this book, Kell, and the company that he kept. The characters were unique and had depth, the story was interesting, and the whole book kept its promise! Looking forward to reading more from this author and reading the rest of this series.

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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.

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The Coward – Stephen Aryan

I was given an advanced copy of this book by the publisher, Angry Robot Books, in order to provide an honest review. Please note this review contains some spoilers.

Stephen Aryan is an English author who has written fantasy books such as the “Age of Darkness” trilogy and the “Age of Dread” trilogy. “The Coward” is the first book in a new duology series. Stephen Aryan was also the winner of the inaugural Hellfest Inferno award in France.

Kell Kressia was a young man when his saga began all those years ago. A foolish young man seeking fame and fortune – to be a hero like those he heard tales of and looked up to. So, like most young men he willing went along with his beloved heroes on a quest that would leave him scarred and changed forever.

Now 10 years later, the events that drew his long-lost famed heroes now draw him back North again. The danger that was lurking in the North many years ago, the danger that he had defeated is back and working their power, and the fear of others through the land.

Kell did not want this, he did not want to be a hero anymore, he was tired and just wanted to be left in peace to live a simple life. But that was not what fate had in store for him. A young man, Gerren, much like himself 10 years ago, is thirsting to prove himself – and much like a young Kell, wants to be a hero.

But Kell wanted to run, run and not face what he feared was lurking in the North. However, young Gerren hatched a plan that saw others joining their quest and venture North with them. Yet, there were many dangers lurking in the shadows and along the path they must travel before the faced the true evil hiding at their final destination. Not everyone who goes will come back alive.

The question that remains is what will our heroes do with the truth that waits for them in the North. Will they release into the world or will they let it remain frozen beneath the ice in peace?

“The Coward” is an engrossing and spell binding fantasy tale about a reluctant hero who must overcome his demons and face his fears if he ever hopes to have the strength to complete this quest and go home to a peaceful life. I loved young Gerren and how innocent he was and felt saddened by the end he was given – though I must admit it was fitting to the thread of his story. Like many of the characters in this story Gerren and Kell are very relatable to the reader and it is easy to emotionally connect with them – hence giving the reader a much more enjoyable experience – speaking to the talent of the author and the quality of their writing. I did quite like the twist at the end and am eager to see what the next chapter in this series has in store.

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This is almost a traditional fantasy story, but the main character who’s supposed to be a monster slaying hero is actually just a lucky coward. That whole twist on the eager farm boy trope is what led me to request this in the first place (that and the pretty cover). I couldn't wait to see what the author would do with this little twist and ultimately, I was delighted with the results.

Kell Kressia was the lone survivor and slayer of the Ice Lich a decade ago and while he may be lauded across the lands as a hero, he feels like anything but. He’s been living out the intervening years on his family farm, tilling the land and sowing his crops, rarely going into town because he just can’t stand the crowds or the attention. The crops aren’t doing so well now, and it’s begun to feel a little, but Kell thinks perhaps it’s just the natural change in weather. Until one of the Kings sends for him and he goes reluctantly to the capitol city for his new mission. He has every intention of making his way north with plenty of money and supplies… and just slipping off into the unknown, never to be heard from again. Until he gets an eager young hanger-on, much like he was ten years ago. He can’t escape his fate (or is it destiny?) so easily now. North he goes with a growing band of companions to see if the source of lingering nightmares has once again returned to the land.

The Coward was what I would consider a classic fantasy story - hero goes to slay a monster - but with the added fun of the hero not wanting to go slay a monster because well, he’s not into dying. I like a reluctant hero and Kell Kressia certainly fits that description. There is more depth to the story than what my brief synopsis explores, so if you like a little bit of kingdom politics then you’ll be pleased to know that’s in the story too. There is a strong religious presence in the kingdoms and they don’t like Kell so much and are determined to have him assassinated. We’ll certainly be seeing more of that in the next book and I’m really looking forward to it!

Overall, I was really pleased with how entertaining The Coward was. The minor characters that get added along the way were fascinating, there was a smidge of romance, a tinge of heartbreak, plenty of action, and so much potential for future books. I’ll definitely be adding Stephen Aryan’s Age of Darkness and Age of Dread trilogies to my audiobook TBR (because that seems to be the only way I can get to older books nowadays).

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Read as an ARC with thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot for providing a review copy. The Coward, book one in The Quest For Heroes, is out June 8th 2021, from Angry Robot.

Ten years have passed since Kell Kressia sent out on a legendary quest with a band of grizzled fighters to slay the Ice Lich and was the only one to return alive. Now a new terror has arisen in the north, and for a second time, Kell is called upon to battle the forces of darkness. But Kell has a secret. He's not a hero - he was just lucky, and he has no intention of risking his life for anyone.


Through deconstructing the classic fantasy adventure narrative through the lens of PTSD, The Coward examines the genre in an in-depth, emotional, and character-driven way. By forcing our hero Kell Kressia to confront and re-examine his trauma, not only does the story reveal the dissonance between the sagas and reality, but also shows how Kell's public image has been warped and weaponised beyond his control.

Kell is a character who does not want to be on the quest. He intends to turn tail and run at the first opportunity. Returning to a peaceful life, he has only recently obtained after his traumatic experience at the Ice-Lich Castle, even if that means having to leave the country to do so. Having lived through the quest once, out of luck and not skill, he feels no obligation to resolve this new problem. He is also still afraid and traumatised by his first adventure and believes that the first quest has already fulfilled his duty to the kingdom.

However, he is forced to continue the journey by Gerran. Who young and naive wants to be the hero Kell is portrayed as in the sagas. After being confronted by Kell about the foolishness of this desire, how fabricated the saga is compared to the reality Kell lived through, and Kell's intention to turn tail and run, Gerran stubbornly refuses to believe Kell seeing him only as a coward. Setting it up that Kell must continue the quest by sending word ahead of Kell's quest and arrival. Gerran makes it impossible for Kell to slip by and go and live the peaceful life he desires, forcing Kell to relive the quest and the trauma he has been avoiding for ten years.

Aryan creates this wonderful parallel between Gerran and Kell through this. Gerran representing Kell's young self, hot-headed, arrogant, and ill-prepared for the reality of the journey ahead. And Kell, who must now take on the position of the former heroes as leader and mentor — making them truly the heart of the story. Gerran slowly realises that though Kell intended to be a coward, he was never a liar about the realities he faced on the first quest.

However, because so much of the story is focused on the parallels between Kell and Gerran the other characters feel shallower in comparison. Malomir, Bronwyn, Vahli, and Willow don't get much character development till the second half of the story. And their motivations and character development fall within a small set of well-worn tropes — the himbo conflicted about his future; the character that hides all their feelings behind shows of strength; the mysterious bard; and the strange and mostly silent outsider. They have enough depth that you genuinely feel for them as the story begins to break our band of heroes one-by-one. But compared to Kell and Gerran, their character arcs feel shallower. While writing this review, I'd even forgotten about Willow, even though she plays a pivotal role in the climax, and had to add her back in as I proofread.

The two characters who I feel most cheated by them having shallower character development is Reverand Mother Britak and Princess Sigrid. Despite their small screen time, these two orchestrate all conflict outside the main Ice-Lich subplot. But, most of the action happens off-screen. When you finally finish the book, you realise that their POV's were only included to set up the next book. I love how this is executed, especially the last scene with Sigrid and her father's steward Lukas because all the pieces of their plot only come together in their final scenes. However, executing their stories in this manner also makes them feel underrepresented compared to our heroes despite their importance.

Reverend Mother Britak gets enough screen time that you grow to hate her and her vile, vicious, and hypocritical attitude. She and her push to hegemonise the world through the use of her faith deliver this poignant allegory between the real world corruption and abuse of the Christian Church and the fantasy world of The Coward and faith of The Sheppard. But, much of her action happens off-screen through mercenaries and agents of hers.

While she orchestrates a lot of the plot and the wider conflict outside the Ice-Lich's threat because we only hear updates on how her plans are going, it makes the reader feel removed from the conflict she is creating. There is a whole kidnapping a prince subplot that happens primarily off the screen. Because of how much of her plot happens off-screen, her effect as an antagonist is lessened by how Aryan utilises her as a setup for the sequel.

Sigrid too is used mainly as setup for the sequel. This feels incredibly frustrating as you come to realise that she is an essential character in the wider plot but gets very little screen time even compared to Britak her main antagonist. Sigrid, her father, King Bledsoe, and his steward Lukas are instrumental in the public perception of Kell Kressia and serve as the main oppositions to Britak's ambition.

King Bledsoe and Lukas are instrumental in creating the Medina Saga, shaping Kell's image as a hero. And Sigrid is instrumental in orchestrating Kell's involvement in the current quest as well as ensuring Britak's plans are interrupted and thwarted where she can. To them, it does not matter whether Kell succeeds or not because they have already planned for both outcomes. And how they will shape the optics around each result for the benefit of their kingdom. Therefore it's such a shame that Sigrid gets very little attention compared to Kell.

Despite having a sequel set up as part of its plot The Coward is still one complete story that can be read on its own because much of it focuses Kell Kressia's POV and his introspections of the trauma he has lived. And while Britak and Sigrid's feel incomplete without the sequel. Kell's story stands on its own and The Cowards examination of trauma through Kell's and his companion defiantly makes this story worth a read.


If you're looking for a character-driven deconstruction of the classic western fantasy narrative, I implore you to check out The Coward. With a strong parallel between Kell and Gerran to lead the story, a heartfelt look at the realities of the quest narrative, and an intriguing sequel set up, Stephen Aryan's The Coward is a must-read.

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Lord of the Rings meets a dark and twisty Fantastic Beast’s. This multiple POV novel will capture your attention as soon as you dive in. Kell Kressia is faced, yet again, with the task of the saving the world. But, heroes aren’t always whole. Follow the story of Kell and his unassuming band of misfits while they save their world.

Kell is summoned by King Bledsoe to save the Five Kingdoms from a mystical presence. Little do they know, in another part of the kingdom…the Reverend Mother, Britak, and King Roebus are plotting against them. The Kingdoms are at odds and the Reverend Mother will do anything to ensure the Shepherd and his 12 Pillars remain in the forefront. She has no time for magic and mysticism.

Six heroes (or maybe fools) embark on this journey. But how many will return?

I really liked this book and Stephen’s writing style. I’m looking forward to continuing the saga.

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First of all thank to Netgalley and Angry Robot for providing me with the copy of this book.
Finally, I finished this beauty. I was so happy to read this book. It's an old school fantasy and I've enjoyed it so much. It's not like others about the brave and great heroes I've read before. Here the heroes bleed and have fear od dying, fear of the beasts and the battles.
The story begins with Kell Kressia, who 10 years ago went to the quest with twelve heroes, and was the one who survived. One day the weather begins to change and the King Bledsoe asks him to go to the North again. Kell accepts, but he know he won't survive this time and he's planning to run with the first opportunity.
But something changes and Kell decide to go to the North with a special company: Garren, a young boy, Willow, an Alfar, Vahli the bard, Malomir, the king of Summer Islands, and Bronwyn.
The story was really interesting. The pacing was just perfect, and I loved so much the characters. I would love to know more about Kell or Vahli. It was a bit disappointing not knowing the full story of some characters, but this is the first book, so maybe we'll see more in the next book.
Also the story about the religion was pretty cool. It reminded me how this subject was treated in Game of Thrones.
I definetly recommend this book to all who lives the old school fantasy with heroes and interesting quests. And I definitely, will read its sequel, because this story makes you want to read more.

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Received arc from Angry Robot and Netgalley for honest read and review.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read that had me hooked from the beginning.
Centres around Kell Kressia and his journey again to the frozen North to find out if the Ice Lich is real,10 years after he first went.
Really excellent story and I cannot wait to read more in this series.

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17-year-old Kell Kressia set off with 11 famed warriors in the North to kill the Ice Lich, but only he returned. He secured peace for the five kingdoms and gained status as a hero and a celebrity.

10 years later, a threat emerges, and it points that the Ice Lich has returned. Famine is slowly spreading throughout the kingdoms, and Kell is once again called to arms by the King to battle this terror. But is he willing to risk his life again?

The Coward is the first book I’ve read by Stephen Aryan and it did not disappoint! I would definitely read his previous works the soonest! It has the classic quest trope with the perfect blend of mystery, humor, and action.

This book is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It has all the usual elements of fantasy except for one: an unfailing hero instead, we have Kell Kressia - dubbed as a hero, and his deed sung everywhere in the five kingdoms, but in reality - he’s a coward.

The accidental hero trope makes The Coward more interesting as it adds more depth to the protagonist and the plot. it shows how the truth can easily be erased so long as the people will buy the lies being fed.
Kell’s POV showed a different side of being a hero: their inner conflict, and the trauma and nightmares that follow after. He’s a likable and engaging protagonist. I like how practical and realistic he is.

In his journey to save humanity again, Kell has formed a group of misfits: “warriors” seeking glory for themselves. A 17-year-old boy named Gerren; the mysterious bard, Vahli; the Alfar nicknamed as Willow (def not human!); Bronwyn, a famous female warrior; and Malomir, a hunter of beasts and men. Also, Britak, the high priestess of the shepherd is an interesting one. She’s vicious and determined although underdeveloped. She’s a fanatic who’s waging a holy war, and her machinations have set things in motion.

A large chunk of the book was their journey thus building the world fantastically. It’s complex, detailed, and well-written. Religion, secrets, politics, and history are sprinkled throughout thereby making the plot more complex. Stephen Aryan’s writing style is engaging, capturing the readers immediately. The pacing was perfect for the book. It slowly sets the world, tone, and the story, then gradually building up. The action scenes were well-done, most of them occurring in the second half of the book. And wow, that last part, I was not expecting it!

Overall, The Coward is an entertaining read. It’s a slow-burn fantasy filled with adventure, actions, and a well-developed protagonist. Looking forward to the second book. More Willow, please!

Thank you so much, Angry Robot, and Netgalley for the DRC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

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With a rich world that creates a great sense of grand scale, and piles and piles of heart, Stephen Aryan writes more beautiful terrain and fame thirsty warriors. It makes the adventure a blast and is buoyed by some fantastic enemy creature designs, though these successes are married to a fairly basic and repetitive first half as a story that seems to regularly overstate its own substance.
Personal rating: 3.75
Full review to come on my YouTube channel.

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"You can hide from other people, but you can't hide from yourself. I'm proof of that."

Thank you, NetGalley and Angry Robot Books for providing me with an e-arc of this book, and I swear that this review is my honest opinion of the book and not at all biased.

This is my first time reading a Stephen Aryan book, and I am all ready to jump into his backlog, cause this book was fantastic. I already added all his books to my Mt. TBR, which I hope to climb to the top of one day.
The Coward is the first book of the Quest for Heroes duology and it follows Kell Kressia, a hero. He's hardly a hero, though. Last time, he was lucky enough to survive the Ice Leech, uh, sorry, Ice Lich, and other heroes' sacrifices spared his neck and soul. Kell was enjoying a calm life in the countryside, working on a farm, after his first experience with a fatal quest ten years ago. However, the weather is changing, and it is becoming chilly, bringing back the farmer's biggest dread. Bad weather, a bad year, bad harvest, famine, starvation, and death.
Kell receives a notice from the king, directing him to prepare for yet another journey to the Frozen North. Kell, however, is no longer the naive and enthusiastic 17-year-old boy; this Kell has had enough, and ill-luck and a curse hang over his head. Only a fool will risk his life again, and Kell is no fool. But even a hero can't always refuse the King, so Kell started off on his journey with the intention of moving north and eventually escaping someplace to start a new life, under a new name, and finally taste freedom from his bloody past. But things don't always go as planned, as you can't always run away from fear, especially when the horror is an emotion buried deep inside your soul, and now he's accompanied by a few others.
A group of misfits embarked on a journey to the north, unaware of the dangers they would encounter along the route, which would also result in the loss of their beating hearts.
All of the characters were intriguing and unique. Reading about each and every character was a lot of pleasure for me.
The book is written in the second person, and the POVs switch from one character to the next, mostly between Kell and Gerren, but others (except Willow) had a share of their POVs as well. There was no mention of the narrator, which was a little confusing at first, but soon became oddly familiar as we read deeper into the book.
Our rumored, yet experienced hero, Kell, the lone survivor and executioner of the monster residing on Ice, is the first figure we'd bring up while discussing characters. He thought that his survival was largely due to the sacrifices of others and his exceptional luck. He joined the heroes since his mother was sick and their harvest had been harmed by the weather. To live a conventional life and keep his only family secure and happy, he needed money and fame. He was 17 when he accompanied the heroes to the Frozen North; tenacious and determined, he refused to give up even when the heroes pushed him to the limit, making it difficult for a young man. He was afraid, but he kept it hidden from the other heroes and did whatever was required of him. Ten years later, guilt has taken hold of him, but unlike the last time, he is no longer afraid to confront the horrors he had to through years before.
The next, we meet Gerren. A 16-year-old boy, naive and full of pride. He only wanted to become rich and famous since he didn't have anybody to call a friend. He gets determined in proving the bards about Kell wrong and disregarding him after learning about his intention to flee. Even when Kell offered him opportunities to escape, he persevered, and the only reason he wanted to continue on the quest was selfishness. He irritated me at first throughout the novel, but he and Kell quickly became my favorite characters. Even when death was dancing above his head, I admired how he stood with the others. He has a special place in my heart.
Willow, the alfar, with a long lengthy name was mysterious and self kept. (introverted maybe?) She was a mysterious figure who continued peering and examining the surroundings, trying to stomach everything, yet she was constantly on high alert and spoke very little. There's a lot more to her than what's in this book. I'd like to know more about her. She arrived with a certain goal in mind. (You'll figure it out...)
Vahli, the bard, wanted to experience the adventures for himself so he could compose a bad on his own about the legit journey and the struggles and he wanted to escape the casted shadow of Madina. Or was that all about him? I mean, I wouldn't put my life on the line simply to create a saga, right?
Bronwyn, a well-built lady who resembled a warrior, was frustrated that no one could ever be a true challenge for her; no matter what, she always got the better deal. As a result, she struggled to mix with other people, but she always remained out. Again, that was all for her?
Malomir, the king of Summer Isles and the islander with so many underrated stories, joined the group to get away from his loneliness, and yeah, well sure, he was good with using swords.
Britak, the Reverend Mother, and my least favorite character in the entire novel is deserving of all the scorn. She's dumb, dumb, dumb and dumb and disgusting, filled with dumb dead cells. whatever she thinks, and talks and does and aims for is dumb and stupid and ridiculous.
I recently had a lot of church belief-based trope on my plate that I had enough of. The Nun, oh no, sorry, the Reverend Mother, was getting n my nerves and I seriously wanted to knock her down and smack her head. Her beliefs in the church and Shepherd had me shaking my head out of sympathy for that sociopath. I wanted to hurl the book (here; phone) out the window every time I read about her punishing herself for her wrongdoings. (But I won't do that, obviously.) Her punishment was her lifting a stone off the ground but the others had to carry a mountain on their head because of her beliefs. Because of her, it took me a long time to finish this book; her points of view sickened me to the point where I had to put the book down for a few days every time.
Up until part three, there was a bard before each chapter, which was both intriguing and stimulating. I enjoyed the way Aryan weaved the tale together; the language was plain and consistent, and all of my predictions for the ending and twists were completely wrong, which amused me.
I won't say the world-building was intriguing because there weren't many narrations about it, but the journey was simple to picture, as at every step they were forced to confront a hurdle after another. Once they arrived at the Frozen North, everything seemed bizarre and odd, including the weird behavior of the animals and beasts. This was a fantasy and thriller with plenty of action and supernatural elements.
The ending was fabulous but grieve stricken, I never expected this book to be this good when I started to read it. The Coward, I felt, can also stand as a standalone, because it accomplished what it set out to achieve flawlessly. But there are a few unsolved questions: a new life awaiting, a few mysteries to be revealed; which we will hopefully learn about in the next book, and I'd want to learn more about the Chaote. ;p
From Vorans to Maglau, Bears to Garrows, Qalamieren and wraiths, vicious beasts and Ice lich, this tale was fantastic, and I can't wait to read the next book.

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This was a book that I have enjoyed, quite a lot. I had some problems with it, for me it is not perfect but it was a hell of a ride, and I enjoyed every moment of it. And this is quite good, right?
Let’s start with Kell, our main character. I really felt him. This may sound a bit strange, because one of the problems I had with this book was that, even if we have some really interesting characters (and they have a lot of good things going on, but more about them all in a bit) I couldn’t really identify myself with them at 100%. I related with them just up to a point, and this was a bit disappointing, because I love characters driven books and I need to really feel them, and relate to them, so in this respect this book fall a bit short. But nonetheless I really empathized with Kell here, especially in the beginning of the story.

He is a survivor. He was the lucky one. The boy who went with the heroes to kill the Lich, and he was the only one who made it back. But it was not easy. He suffers from PTSD and he is a broken man. But he is also a man that had given a lot to his kingdom. And he does not feel any lingering sense of obligation toward it. And how much I understood him! I know that his idea wasn’t going to pay up, you just know since you have a whole book ahead of you and it just couldn’t go in that direction (even if it would have been a really original book in that case), but I was cheering him all the way while he was trying to disappear and let the kingdom fend for itself. And how much I have hated Gerren!
I think that he was my least favorite character, but not because he is plain or bidimensional. Not at all. He is a really well developed character. But he throw Kell back in a world that he desperately want to evade. Gerren is young, and so green in a lot of ways. And he has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. What is fair and what isn’t. But life is not always fair. And he has yet to discover it. And for this, I really hated him with a passion for a good chunk of the book. And in the end, I warmed a bit toward him, but he was not my favorite. I would have strangled him!!!!!

But here we have another important thing about the book: Kell is human, just that. The first time he went with the heroes he was exactly like Gerren. He was dumb (young-dumb), he was an idealist, a dreamer and he wanted the world to be a fair place.
His first travel to the North killed not only a lot of his companions but also his youth, his naivete. And it gave him nightmares and regrets. It took a young boy with all life ahead of him, and it spat out a broken man. And Kell does not want to go back to it. He wants to run the farthest possible from it. And if this made him a coward, let’s be so.
But then Gerren happen. And with Gerren other companions join in the merry band. And so Kell is headed again to the North and to the Monster that is coming back. He is not happy about it, but he is resigned. Someone has to do it, and, all things considered, he is the one with the best chances at it. With some help, of course.
Kell is a hero. But it is not your usual hero, he is disillusioned, he is broken, and sure as hell, he doesn’t want to do it. But do it he will. And with him, all his companions show heroism, and again is a sort of heroism that can seem a bit smaller, a bit less legendary but, because of this, more real and more precious.

But let’s go back to the characters. With Gerren and Kell, we have Willow, she is not human and she is quite the mysterious kind of girl. Not only she is an unknown but her whole race is, and we get to discover a little bit while her companions discover something more about her and her race. But, to be honest, I would have liked to know more. They had a really long time to spend together, so I was hoping to discover a little more. But this is just a minor thing, she is a great character, and she would show us what all this is about. And the final discovery, the final twist, was something amazing. Really!
The last hero is another mysterious one. Valhi, the bard. He is human, and he is not quite as mysterious as Willow, that’s true, but he has a lot of surprises and I really wanted to get to know him better.
And, last but not least, we have Britak. She is not one of the heroes on the mission. She is the woman in the shadows who tries to stop our heroes to do their deed. And if, on one hand, I didn’t like her because she is trying her best to rich her goals, and even if this is a commending trait, I didn’t like her goals a bit, on the other, she is really something. She has a plan (or better, a master plan) and she won’t be stopped. She is a woman on a mission, that’s for sure. And even if I find myself at the opposite of her believes and goals, most of the time at least, she is a rare kind of person, because she is a true believer. And even if we are bordering on the fanatic side, she is quite true to herself and to her beliefs. She really lives with the dogma of her religion at heart, and for this, she was a really interesting character.

So, even if I had some problems relating to the characters, I can say without a doubt that they were the best thing of the book, but they were not the only good thing in there. We have an interesting world-building. Nothing over the top, sure, but we have a world worth exploring, and thanks to our characters' trip to the North we get the opportunity to see quite a bit of it. But the second-best thing was the plot. The main part is pretty standard, entertaining, and interesting, I was not bored while reading, but nothing to write home about. But then we have some new discovery and the final twist of all. And… wow! The revelation was pretty big, and it made me really curious to see how the author would play it out, while the final twist made me laugh. And maybe it was bad of me, but it was just too good to be true, even if I think that Kell won’t agree with me.

This was a great book, about the “right” kind of heroes, with an interesting plot and a good pace. I was intrigued by it, and I enjoyed it a lot. And now I just have to wait for the second one to come out!!

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Short Version: A really intriguing story that gives new life to tired tropes.

Long version:

I enjoyed this a lot, it played around with some tropes that I’ve been bored with for a while giving them a new lease of life and added some elements like political shenanigans that are very much my cup of tea.

On the surface this is an action fantasy with quests and obstacles and creatures and you can rip through it and have a pretty satisfying read but if you take your time and pay attention to the details, there is an awful lot going on and that for me elevates it.

The Plot: To be honest, the plot is pretty much what you think it’s going to be - a traditional journey quest with a ragtag group who need to work together to overcome obstacles. It’s entertaining if a little repetitive but for me it’s just a vehicle for other elements to provide the magic.

The Setting: The settings were fitting for the story, used nicely to compliment the plot.

The Characters: This is where I think the magic happens. I love how the characters and their interactions mess with the tropes we have come to expect from quest type stories. I liked the inclusion of ailments, both physical and mental and I thought they were handled sensitively. I liked the complexity of the characters and I LOVED The Reverend Mother (obviously she is awful but as a character she is gold.).

The Pace: Solid pacing throughout.

The Prose: I like the way Stephen writes. I like the accessible nature of the writing. I think the dialogue flows naturally and is really quite funny in places without the humour being laboured.

The Ending: Satisfying. I’m intrigued as to where the next book will go.

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The Coward follows Kell as an adult, the hero and last survivor who stood against the Ice Lich years before. A man who doesn’t consider himself a hero and just wants to move past what he’s survived, he is then called back into service of the king when the weather changes to see if the Ice Lich has returned.

The Coward was such a fun book! It’s not often you get a main character who is a coward, a man who doesn’t want to be a hero and instead just wants to farm and find a wife and live peacefully. Someone who wants to forget what he’s already lived through. This was such a unique take on a fantasy novel, having this grand adventure starting out with someone who does not want to go.

We have a few perspectives throughout the book, which made Kell’s story all the more interesting as you see what’s going on in the world and who is conspiring against him. There is a lot happening throughout the start of the book especially, as Kell starts his adventures and assembles a group of other heroes, as well as seeing a political and religious side to the world and the effects it’s having on his adventure. It did make the start of the book a bit slow as there is so much to be introduced to, but once it picks up, it really gets going.

The ending of the book was fantastic. The build up, the heroes, everything about it just felt perfect. Parts of it came as a bit of a surprise, which was refreshing as well. So much of the this book managed to feel unique while following a timeless fantasy trope of adventuring heroes.

There are some content warnings for the book though, for those readers that need them. Religious fanaticism with implied child abuse and ‘re-education schools’. There is also some violent scenes, and some non consensual advances from some characters. A lot of the scenes are implied though, so if you’re okay with just knowing about it without having to read brutal scenes, you might be able to tolerate those scenes.

I would strongly recommend this one if you’re looking for a new take on fantasy tropes, as this one is such a fun read.

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Genre: new adult, epic fantasy, high fantasy, quest, political/ religious intrigue
Age range: 17+

Overall: 4.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Writing and Setting: 4-5/5

Content warning: *swearing, gore, violence, use of weapons, underage drinking, flagellation, death, injury, mental illness: PTSD, Anxiety, Depression.

The gist of my review:

With epic battles, a seemingly impossible quest, and cast of misfit heroes, ‘The Coward’ by Stephen Aryan is a great read for fans of ‘The Lord of The Rings’.

On top of this, Aryan did an incredible job of combining this really interesting magic system, elements of political/religious intrigue, and developing a diverse and in- depth world.

I’m under the impression that this book has one of the greatest first sentences of all time.
“Kell Kressia, slayer of the Ice Lich and saviour of the Five Kingdoms, tripped on a rake and fell into a pile of horse shit.”

I really enjoyed this book. The reason as to why I didn’t give it a 5/5 was because there was a very obvious lull in the middle of the book. During this, there was a lot of battles for Kell and the crew but they all seemed to resemble each other slightly which then became a little repetitive. Alongside this, there were scenes throughout the book that were trying to invoke some very profound emotions, however I found that I wasn’t overly moved.

Characters: 4.5/5
The supporting characters were fantastic. Normally I would break each character down and talk about them individually, however there is a number of very distinct voices in this story, and to do them all justice, this review would be very long. For now I’m only going to talk about the two main and their very polarising characters.

Kell Kressia:
Kell is a really interesting character. This book provides a lot of insight about his past and how he previously made the journey to slay the Ice Lich alongside a crew of eleven heroes. At the time he had been a young, naive seventeen year old and had come back as the lucky sole survivor from beyond the frozen circle.

In the present timeline he’s ten years older and has lived an unforgiving life. Initially he runs from the call to slay another threat, but a young man, Garren, challenges Kell’s legacy, coerces him into making the journey north and demands that he joins Kell on his quest.

Kell is a strong willed, brave, and insightful character. He cringes at the idea of being a leader, but he cares for his crew and respects the fact that he’s not the strongest or most ambitious in his quest. He’s very accepting of the differences between his crew members and we see new developments in Kell’s character as he interacts with each individual.

Throughout the story we are given a unique perspective between Kell from the past and Kell from the present, and so we are able to see how far he’s come as a person and in his personal growth.

Reverend Mother Britak :
The Reverend Mother is the holy leader of the religious group who follow The Shepard. She is a harsh, strict yet faithful leader to her religion and is striving to spread the word of the Shepard throughout The Five Kingdoms through any means necessary. She has some very ‘questionable’ ways of ensuring that the 12 pillars (kind of like the 12 commandments) are followed and her intentions are to increase her zealot followers.

According to her religion, magic and magical beings are against the word of the Shepard, and therefore Kell, his legacy and his current journey are a distractor to the public and towards her campaign.

Although Kell and Britak don’t cross paths in this book, Britak’s narrative sets her up to be a very compelling and lethal enemy in the sequel.

A special mention to Vahli and Willow because they were both fantastic characters.

Plot: 4/5
Admittedly, I didn’t have high hopes for the plot of this book. I usually don’t enjoy when the plot is centralised around a main quest, and this is one of those books, however when I reached the last couple of chapters, things started to unveil that gave hints towards the nature of the sequel and I can’t express how much those details changed my mind about this book. In my opinion, the last couple of chapters are what gave it an extra 1.5 stars and made me immediately excited for the release of the sequel.

Writing and Setting: 4-5/ 5
We see multiple perspectives throughout the book, however our main characters are Kell and Britak. The writing is in third person which allows for some very interesting perspectives.

As previously mentioned, there were parts in the book that were trying to evoke a lot of emotion and I didn’t really connect with them. These scenes were fairly early on in the timeline so I’ve put it down to not knowing the characters all that well in comparison to the emotions I felt towards the end of the book.

Without a doubt, the world building must be praised. We see a vast array of kingdoms, races, creatures, towns and locations that were fascinating to read about that is unique to this story and incredibly creative.

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~ Thanks to NetGalley and Angry Roboto for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review ~

My experience with "The Coward" was a bit bumpy at the beginning, but by the end I could honestly say that I had a good time. Towards the start of the book, Aryan's writing feels like he's telling us rather than showing us, and it took a handful of attempts to get past the first 2 pages because of how impersonal it felt. The beginning is also rather crude so if you're expecting something noble like The Lord of the Rings, this isn't for you. Something I've noticed about many modern fantasty books is that you'll usually find a lot of sex, gore, and/or poop, and the beginning of "The Coward" mentions the latter a fair bit. But funnily enough, this whole book is about getting past that noble surface we often associate with heroes and fantasy settings, so for once it felt appropriate.

I will say that if this book wasn't part of a series, I would rate it lower because there's so many questions I still have after finishing it. But since we can expect more from Aryan in this universe, I'm content to wait. I didn't get entirely attached to the characters, and I think that might be because of Aryan's slightly detached style of writing, but I liked them enough to hope they'd get through unscathed. What Aryan's writing style highlighted best though was the fight scenes. These were fantastic, and I had a lot of fun with them. In terms of the plot itself, I really enjoyed watching it all unfold. I do wish we'd found out a bit more about the "heroes" themselves in a small cluster when the adventure began, with more details sprinkled throughout, but I'll take what we got without too much complaint.

Over all, this is not necessarily the best fantasy book I've ever read, but I really enjoyed it and appreciated the realistic take of what it means to be a hero.

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This book follows the former "hero" of the kingdoms as he is dragged back into adventuring. 10 years ago Kell saved the realm by killing the Ice Lich and was the sole survivor of a group of heroes he tagged along with. Now he just wants to left alone, but unfortunately the world needs their hero again.

Reasons to read:
-Recalcitrant protagonist who really doesn't want to be there
-I enjoyed that the world building was done more from the antagonist's POV, and boy do I not like them.
-Religious order doing some sus stuff, which I enjoy if they get dismantled later
-The side characters are so damn interesting and I want to know more about them
-I think I know who a spy is and I can't wait for their reveal.
-Dog Sledding

-Series just started so you will have to wait for more after finishing.

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I remeber reading Stephen Aryan's previous works a fex years ago and liking the concept but not fully loving the story. Here it's completely gone, i loved it ! I loved the concept, the writing style, the pacing... everything !

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