Imagine what Robin Hood and his merry men would have been like if they instead were just a bunch of common criminals, a joyless but pragmatic group of outcastes, thieves and thugs. Though the band of outlaws in this book is not that of Robin Hood, they are very similar in many ways including their medieval lifestyles, their existence in a forested environment, and their penchant for robbing the rich. However, this particular group of criminals did not give to the poor.
In the kingdom of Albermaine, this was the motley group of individuals to which the protagonist of our story, Alwyn, was first introduced. As a young lad, he was outcast from the brothel where he was born and adapted by the leader of this group, Deckin, also known as the “King of Outlaws”. Subsequently, his views on the meaning of life were geared towards achieving both wealth and power through whatever means necessary. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, his relationship with these felons came to an abrupt end because of betrayal by some of its members. In the process, most of the band members were killed and the leader of the group, Deckin, publicly executed.
Deckin had been a father figure to young Alwyn and the other gang members were like family. At heart, Alwyn was still an outlaw. Having survived the massacre of his outlaw band, Alwyn thought primarily of vengeance. During the course of the story, Alwyn grows physically and mentally, enhancing his skills, his sociability and his attitude towards life.
The course of Alwyn’s life is like a meandering river full of rapids. Based primarily on events not much in his control, he is led to various destinations where he encounters many experiences and a variety of people. Some of the people he meets eventually become his friends. Through a lot of luck and the help of these friends, he avoids being caught and executed by forces of Albermaine’s king, who had also ordered the deaths of Alwyn’s original band. For additional protection, Alwyn and his friends eventually join a religious congregation known as the “Covenant”.
From first being just an outlaw, Alwyn progresses into becoming an educated man and unlike many of his contemporaries, he can now both read and write. He becomes known then as Alwyn Scribe. This was because his new job was that of a scribe to monasteries and royalty. From there, events cause him to join the army of the “Covenant”, where he is further trained as a soldier. He learns horsemanship and the ability to use and fight with a broadsword.
There is rebellion in the kingdom and Alwyn gets to participate in a number of battles. The battle scenes are very descriptive and one almost gets the sense of being in the battle line armed with halberd and ax together with Alwyn. In the process, Alwyn gets closer to the lady captain of his company, Evadine, who is very religious, noble and beautiful.
Even after his life has taken a somewhat religious turn, Alwyn at his core has not forgotten being a thief and outlaw. As a sideline, he has been made aware of a hidden treasure and always seeks information as to its whereabouts. He also has on his mind his “hit” list of vengeance. He meets a few of the people on the list, but ironically, he is not the one that cuts their lives short. It is the work of various female associates that have come into his life, unaware that their victims were also on Alwyn’s black list..
Overall, I found this to be a very interesting book! It is book one of Anthony Ryan’s new trilogy, the Covenant of Steel. For George R.R.Martin fans, though there are no flying dragons in the neighborhood, most of the characters could have moved here from Westeros, possibly to get away from the dragons! Even some of the wayward clergy of the “Covenant” sect seem to have been deposited here when their cathedral blew up in “Game of Thrones”. The drama and tension between all the characters in this book are very palpable and in a land where betrayal is common, no one can be trusted.