Before I get started there's just enough time for some disclosure. I know Jen Williams well enough for her to have very kindly supplied a guest post, at the old blog, and for us to make appreciative noises at cool books whenever we bump into each other. That's not going to stop me telling it how it is but, you know, just so you know :o)
I've been fortunate enough to read 'The Copper Promise' in both of its previous incarnations (you can tell I've been watching Doctor Who recently can't you?) and I've been really looking forward to seeing the book in its final form. This would explain my initial bumping 'The Copper Promise' up the reading pile and I've spent the last couple of days totally lost to everything else while I read it. I know that writing and publishing is a 'long game' but even so, can we have the sequel now please?
There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel: some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths. For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him ... and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Carverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There's the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they're done. But sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes it pays to listen. Soon this reckless trio will become the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they're not even getting paid.
If there was one word I'd use to describe 'The Copper Promise', it would be 'joyful'. This is a book that may wear its influences a little too proudly (hints of Leiber and Fighting Fantasy for me) but makes up for it by revelling in these influences and having a lot of fun with them, just the way fantasy should be sometimes. That’s not to say that Williams is just rehashing the ‘good old days’ either; the plot, characters and world are clearly her own and they all work together in just the right way.
But back to that sense of fun I briefly mentioned. Thinking about it, it all comes from the Copper Cat of Crosshaven herself. No matter whether she’s flying a griffin (and being chased by a dirty great dragon) or journeying into a forbidden underground citadel; the ready wit on display and her constant enthusiasm (so long as the day doesn’t start too early) shows that Wydrin is having the time of her life. Adventuring isn’t just what she does, it who she is and Wydrin has as much fun doing the rough stuff as she does loading her dice and fleecing unwary gamblers. When a character is clearly having that much fun, you can’t help but enjoy reading along; it’s the perfect mix and Williams makes it all look really easy. I may even have a tiny crush on Wydrin, as a result, but anyway…
The Copper Promise’ has it all; dark dungeons and cities where your safety just cannot be guaranteed (map please!), all crawling with villainous types who pale into insignificance when you see the dragon and her army on the horizon. Actually, having said that, Fane and Roki made for pretty awesome villains and I’m looking forward to seeing more along those lines in future books. Where was I? Yes, the dragon provides a real air of menace and the resulting battles make for spectacular reading. What ‘The Copper Promise’ was all about for me though was friendship and doing the right thing by your friends (even if you don’t realise that’s what they are at the time). A theme like this sounds almost quaint when placed against some of the fantasy novels doing the rounds, these days, but give it a go; Williams’ strong characters offer a solid base to build on this theme and the exploration makes for some surprisingly touching moments during the questing and warfare (yes, even with the walking dead guy).
While some sub-plots are left open (presumably for future books, I want to see more of Bezcavar) you never get the sense that ‘The Copper Promise’ is anything other than a stand-alone book and I really appreciated that approach. A complete story with hints of what is to come; that kind of book leaves me wanting more but not feeling cheated by a cliff-hanger ending. I hope this will be the approach for future books as I will be reading them.
‘The Copper Promise’ then is a gripping ‘Sword & Sorcery’ read that promises a hell of a lot for the future, both in terms of adventuring and characters that promise to grow with each book. I’ll see you for the sequel.