There was a time not so long ago when I’d open up an epic Fantasy tale half expecting to abandon it before the end of the first chapter, as yet another turgid trek through a medieval landscape with a bunch of charmless Tolkien wannabes trudged across the pages. But that was before I encountered the passionate writing of Sophie E. Tallis, the vivid characters depicted by Sammy H.K. Smith, the intelligent plotting of Joanne Hall. And Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise. So does this sequel sustain the high standard Williams set in her success debut?
After their defeat of the dragon-god Y’Ruen, the trio of mercenaries who call themselves the Black Feather Three find that demand for their services as swords for hire is high, and it’s the lure of money (the copper promise) that entices them to the northern city of Skaldshollow, high in the mountains. They have been asked to retrieve a stolen artefact, but this relatively simple job takes on multiple levels of complication as our sellswords find themselves embroiled in a war between the stone-crafting Skalds and their neighbours and rivals, the cold-blooded Narhl. They are fighting an ideological war for the very soul of the mountains, in a land steeped in ancient magic, while below the surface of the earth something even more ancient, more magical, and more evil, is stirring…
Oh yes. This is a cracker. Williams’ smooth, deft writing style means that she manages to make this triple-stranded storyline look seamless, as we continue to follow the adventures of Lord Frith, Wydrin and Sebastian. I did wonder if Williams was going to be able to sustain the full-on pace of The Copper Promise after the climactic ending with the dragon. And I can confirm she certainly does. While there isn’t quite the same blithe breeziness that had me categorising the first book as gleedark, we are immediately plunged right into the middle of yet another, apparently routine adventure, which rapidly turns into a mess. We also have flashbacks showing Sebastian’s time with the Dragon Brood and his struggles to civilise them and keep them safe from retribution for their previous bloody deeds. I really enjoyed this nifty device to get us up to speed without slowing the pace of the unfolding crisis.
As the full-tilt adventure continues, we also get steadily more information about all three complex, cagey characters, particularly Wydrin. Each character is well developed with strong flaws as well as bravery and a hatred of injustice – Lord Frith is very aware of his station in life and can appear cold and rather remote, Wydrin’s refusal to address her inner sorrows makes her stupidly reckless and Sebastian tends to feel overly responsible for everyone and everything around him. Williams uses these weaknesses to deftly pull the plot forward which means the characters in the middle of the action are engaging and easy to care about.
Williams also writes evil characters with splendid relish that had me engrossed, while wondering if this is the instalment where the Three Feathers becomes Two… The stakes, once more, get insanely high as all three adventurers become the only hope for civilisation. There is no trace of the dreaded second book hiatus during this slice of the unfolding story, as the climactic ending had me hooked, unable to put the book down until the end. I’m now looking forward to the next book, The Silver Tide, due out next February.
The book was provided by Netgalley, while the opinions in this review are my own.