Here we are closing out another Anthony Ryan series— the man is a writing machine. Today we are here to talk about The Traitor, the third book in Ryan’s The Covenant of Steel series. This brick of a book tells the end of the story of Alwyn the scribe, a man of many hats who has been dragged to hell and back. In book one, he spent his time trying to find his place. In book two, he found his place as the backbone of a crusade that he had to keep moving like spinning plates. Finally, in book three, Alwyn realizes that crusades are historically not great and now has to dismantle a machine he spent two books making indestructible.
The Traitor finishes a story arc that stands out to me in the sea of fantasy genre sameness. It is a deeply introspective journey in which Alwyn constantly finds he knows less than he should and needs to readapt to new information. It reads like watching someone leave a cult repeatedly only to find themselves in a nested larger cult, with a side of political machinations that feels right at home in the narrative. Alwyn, obviously, is a flawed character, and he wears it well. Despite massive mistakes, he is still always easy to root for and is constantly on the path of self-improvement. The Traitor, as might be inferred from the title, represents his turning point; he no longer can ignore the evils being done around him. It is a very satisfying read and once again the vibes and atmosphere of this book are immaculate in their ability to just induce anxiety in me as the reader.
I would argue that The Covenant of Steel is easily Ryan’s best work so far at a higher series level and great from an execution standpoint when it comes to macro themes across the series. The place where Ryan usually struggles a bit in my mind is his endings, and while I do think there was some inevitability to this ending it overall was very satisfying. Though this is very clearly the end of Alwyn’s story, Ryan leaves the door open for sagas involving the other characters and the setting (which I would love to see).
As always, Ryan’s prose and action scenes are a cut above the rest. The Traitor gives us some enormous martial conflicts and no one can put you in the mud, grime, and misery of the battlefield like Ryan can. The book has a lot of religious imagery and Alywn very much feels like Dante being dragged through hell in this one with copious graphic scenes to really set the terrible mood.
That’s all I really want to tell you about The Traitor as I don’t want to steal any of its magical misery juice. If you need a clearer stance on the recommendation here it is: I emphatically recommend this series. It represents a very potent brew of Ryan’s body of classic fantasy skills, numerous new ideas, and atmospheric wonder. Alwyn is a powerful lead with a vivid character arc and a memorable voice. This is a story I will remember and I can’t wait to see where Ryan takes the world next.
The Traitor – 9.0/10
The Covenant of Steel – 9.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.