This is the third book in a very successful series where I’ve loved the first two books, The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost. Can Williams sustain the action-fuelled energy that characterised the adventures of this intrepid trio?
Tales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother. Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed…
We pick up the story as the three heroes are still recovering from their previous exploits – and when we encounter Wydrin’s mother, Devinia the Red, an awful lot about the way Wydrin behaves suddenly makes sense. Not there is too much time to analyse the mother/daughter relationship as events once more overtake our hardy group and they are whisked up in a series of adventures that include cursed treasure, vengeful gods, helpful demons, dragons, seers, world-destroying fanatics… It should be a brain-aching mess, but instead rolls into a wonderful escapist read with enjoyable, sympathetic characters.
While there is plenty of death, disaster and mayhem where the stakes become insanely high, Williams’ writing is infused with a joie de vivre that has me labelling this series as gleedark rather than grimdark. I’m delighted to say that vitality is still evident in this the third book at a stage where a series is normally becoming darker as the main characters are starting to count the cost of all those death-defying adventures. Though I wouldn’t want you going away with the idea that Williams’ protagonists are the Teflon-coated type where at the start of each book they spring back into the start of the next adventure totally unscathed by all that has gone before. Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian are all struggling to come to terms with the fallout from The Iron Ghost, though if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading of their previous adventures, you shouldn’t flounder too much. But Williams manages to depict their trauma without losing pace or energy – something harder to achieve than she makes it look.
Despite the plot sprouting off in all directions, there was no stage where I found myself skimming one storyline to try to return to another – something that regularly happens in multi-viewpoint tales and a reason why I often don’t like them. Williams’ smooth, technically accomplished writing and regular dollops of humour keeps the pace whisking along at a fair clip, with the story constantly producing yet another confrontation with some exotic nastiness.
I also enjoyed the fact that the main antagonist who is the chief cause of all this mayhem is not some pantomime villain. While she is madder than a box of frogs, there are sound reasons for her mania and we get to see the unfolding story in her viewpoint, so while I regularly wanted to shake her till her teeth rattled, I did understand her motives. For those of us who have read The Iron Ghost there is an additional bonus. One of the main antagonists is reincarnated in a time-travelling twist so we get to see him before he becomes the power-hungry, twitchy individual that nearly does for our heroes.
You may have gathered I am still fizzing after completing this book, which I highly recommend.