The Coward (Quest for Heroes #1) by Stephen Aryan

Write on: Mon, 19 Jul 2021 by  in Gary's Reviews Read 1679

Title: The Coward

Author: Stephen Aryan

Series: Quest for Heroes

Publisher: Angry Robot

First Published: 2021

Pages: 412

Rating: 4/5

A fun fantasy adventure with a lot of heart. 

The moment I read the opening lines to The Coward by Stephen Aryan, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Set in the land of the Five Kingdoms, it tells the tale of the reluctant hero, Kell Kressia, on a quest to slay an evil for the second time. However, this is not exactly your run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, with Aryan taking his characters and story a somewhat different route to what we are used to. 

The best thing about The Coward is Kell himself. A living legend renowned for braving the ice of the Far North and slaying the Ice Lich to save the Five Kingdoms, all he wants to do now is live out the rest of his life in peace. But being a hero comes with expectations, and when a new threat rises all eyes turn to Kell to save the day again. The thing about Kell though is that he doesn’t want to. He is not the glory-craving seventeen-year-old that set out with the Five Kingdoms’ greatest heroes a decade ago; he is haunted by what he witnessed and experienced the first time and would rather run away than face the same ordeal again. Unfortunately, circumstance sees him reluctantly back on the same road north, this time with less heroes, and weighed down by trauma. I really like how Aryan gradually delves into Kell’s mind as the story unfolds. Kell might project confidence and charisma but inside he is a victim of PTSD, and that manifests more and more the closer he gets to his destination. 

Accompanying Kell on this journey are a handful of characters, one of which also serves as a secondary viewpoint character. Gerren is Kell ten years ago, driven by the same aspirations of heroism that led Kell north the first time. Gerren quickly realises that Kell is not the hero he idolises so much, and this affects him greatly, his journey becoming one of self-discovery as he comes to terms with some very harsh truths. Another standout character is that of Willow. I won’t say anything more about her other than she is unique and important to the story. Unfortunately, the rest of Kell’s crew felt forgettable to me in comparison to Gerren and Willow, which is a shame, as Aryan can quite clearly write great characters if the aforementioned ones are anything to go by. 

We also get an interesting antagonist viewpoint in that of Reverend Mother Britak, the head of the Church of the Shepherd. She has a vendetta against Kell since his slaying of the Ice Lich does not quite fit her narrative that magic isn’t real. As sinister and fanatical as she is, I absolutely loved her witty remarks, criticising both commoner and king alike. At the same time, she has her own personal battle to fight as age is creeping up on her. Unfortunately, her arc is also my biggest criticism. Besides a few links, her story felt disconnected to that of Kell’s, focused more on setting up events in the next book after Kell’s finished his quest in the first. I feel that Aryan could have fitted her story in better. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable and I am interested to see the role Britak will have in the sequel. 

In terms of structure, The Coward is told over two acts. The first act sees Kell setting out on his quest, travelling from tavern to tavern, gathering his band of heroes along the way. It might be a bit of a slow burner for some readers but Aryan keeps things interesting throughout. Personally, I think act two is where The Coward is at its best, its pages filled with plenty of intense action, major character moments and some very cool revelations. I read the entire second half of the book in one sitting. Aryan also delivers a satisfying conclusion that brings many threads to a close and also sets up the next book nicely. 

Overall, The Coward is a very good read. Putting aside my criticisms, I really enjoyed my time with Kell and am excited to read the sequel, The Warrior. If the little taster chapter at the end of the book is a good indication of what’s in store for readers, then it is going to be a lot of fun. 

Last modified on Monday, 19 July 2021 17:54

Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.