Title: The Coward
Author: Stephen Aryan
Series: Quest for Heroes
Publisher: Angry Robot
First Published: 2021
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.