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.