The Copper Promise by Jen Williams
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 Caverson, 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.
When it comes to fantasy novels I think my needs are relatively simple. I want memorable characters, lashings of action, really angry dragons, curses, torture, captures, escapes, enigmatic mystics and, if at all possible, a sense of awe and wonder. Like I said, simple. The good news is that The Copper Promise by Jen Williams delivers all of the above and then some.
It’s the relationships that the narrative creates between Wydrin, Seb and Frith that are at the heart of this novel. Together the three form their own, slightly dysfunctional, family unit.
Wydrin, the self-styled Copper Cat of Crosshaven, was the standout character for me.
…she rose later than everyone else, stretching and groaning and padding into Holley’s kitchen like a scruffy alley cat.
There is a definite feline quality to Wydrin alright. Inquisitive, sometimes demanding and often aloof, I warmed to her immediately. What can I say, I’m a cat person. Wydrin is just so delightfully snarky most of the time she’s a wonder to behold. Her tongue is undoubtedly as sharp as the two daggers she’s never without. Her quick dry wit is matched only by her roguish skills.
Sir Sebastian, meanwhile, remains thoughtfully stoic throughout. You can almost imagine him shaking his head apologetically every time his partner offers her opinion on any topic. Williams does another excellent job of establishing character here. Slowly we’re drip fed details of Seb’s history, his fall from grace and his quest for some sort of redemption. As you start to discover the things he has been through, his reactions feel entirely natural and very well observed.
Frith is driven by a need for revenge. He has suffered at the hands of his enemies and when we first met him he is fuelled almost entirely by hate. The evolution of his character offers insight into the journey of a man starting to re-discovering his humanity. On top of that the fact that he starts to discover hidden talents within himself is an added bonus.
There are also some wonderful throw away moments scattered throughout the main narrative that help to flesh out the world of Ede. Some evocative character names just mentioned in passing, the Steadfast Seven being a personal favourite, hint at a past that is just as colourful as the present. There are also some great supporting characters. Just wait till you meet the Cursed Crusaders or the soldier’s of the brood army, they’re pretty fricking awesome as too.
Williams has created a fantastical world, and by extension a fantastical story, that feels instantly familiar but also manages to defy a reader’s expectations. There is a well thought out merging together of traditional fantasy elements with modern ideas and this delivers a terrific story featuring some genuinely engaging protagonists. I was utterly engrossed; to give you a rough idea of how rare that is the last time I experienced anything similar was when I first read Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings or the Dragonlance novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I love it when good fantasy manages that trickiest of tasks, to be fully immersive. I’d lost myself completely within a handful of pages and was entirely caught up in the Wydrin, Seb and Frith’s world.
How best to sum up my experience with The Copper Promise then? You know that exquisite agony where you’re whizzing through a book because you’re loving it and need to know what happens next, but in the same breath you don’t want to read to quickly because you’re loving it so much that you don’t want it to end? Yeah, that. I’ll let you into a little secret – I actually broke the spine of my review copy at one point as I was in such a rush to get it out of my bag*. Fantasy fans are going to love this and the best news, according to the lady herself on Twitter, is that book 2 is well in hand.
The Copper Promise is published by Headline and available from 13th February. A highly recommended debut, I look forward to more.
* Yes, I know I’m a bad reviewer. I’ll just wait here for the Book Police to arrive and cart me off to the naughty reviewer re-education centre.