The Coward takes a look behind the heroes in their tales and sagas to reveal who the real people behind the songs and daring deeds are. Written primarily from the point of view of main character, Kell Kressia, The Coward sees a damaged man thrust back into the world of heroism he had been hiding from for the last ten years. Once, he desperately wanted to be a hero and tagged along on a quest with eleven (11) men to defeat an Ice Lich in the Frozen North that threatened the Five Kingdoms with failing crops, famine and death. Only Kell returned and he is not keen to repeat the ordeal. Now, the weather has turned sour again, crops are failing and the King has summoned Kell to save the world once more.
Kell takes us on his second epic quest as he relives some of the horrors he faced as a teenager. Along the way, he is joined by a rag-tag group of misfits each with their own reasons for following him into the grim Frozen North. What they experience and what they find out in the icy wasteland surprises even the cynical Kell. Meanwhile, the head of the church of the Shepherd, Reverend Mother Britak, is manipulating events in the Five Kingdoms to bring about a holy war to bring all in line under her one true god.
Through Kell’s story, Stephen Aryan examines feelings of fear, courage and obligation, as well as the physical and mental toll heroism takes on the individual. Kell describes symptoms much akin to PTSS and it is a refreshing – albeit dark – take on epic fantasy giving it a touch of realism. We explore the tragedies of death, loss and the grief that goes with it but also friendship, belonging and love. The Coward packs a lot into its pages.
If this sounds heavy, fret not, as the prose is accessible and short chapters will have you sailing through it in no time. This could easily be read as a standalone if you’re worried about waiting for book two (The Warrior) but there’s still enough there to set the stage for a sequel. My only real criticism is that, for a traditionally published book, there were quite a few editing/proofreading misses and mistakes. The overall experience made up for it but nevertheless it did lose some points in my mind over this (I was reading the paperback version, these issues may have been rectified in digital copies or later printings).