THE COPPER PROMISE by JEN WILLIAMS
PB, 535 pages, Headline
Buy The Copper Promise (complete novel) (Copper Cat) on Amazon
Jen Williams debut novel “The Copper Promise” weighs in at a hefty, possibly intimidating*, 535 pages. That’s a lot of book, enough to give a postman a hernia. It also comes with a weight of expectation, even hype, that left me wondering whether this latest fantasy doorstep was (whisper) any good?
The premise is promising. Two sell-sword adventurers, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a down-on-his-luck knight who has been kicked out of his order for a transgression, and Wydrin, the self-styled Copper Cat of Crosshaven. They are hired by Lord Frith to accompany him to the Citadel in Krete, where he will find the means to take his revenge on the people who left him tortured and broken. But the Citadel is not a treasure trove, it’s a prison. A prison for the old, mad gods. And when Frith, Wydrin and Sebastian accidentally unleash the maddest, hungriest god of all, they find themselves thrust into the front line of a war that threatens to destroy the world.
I’ve seen reviews elsewhere that suggest that the characters are unlikable and self-serving. Well, they’re certainly self-interested, as you’d expect a couple of swords-for-hire to be – the title of the book, “The Copper Promise” refers to the money promised by Frith to Wydrin and Sebastian once their obligations are fulfilled. But they’re certainly not unlikable, and Williams is not afraid to play around with fantasy tropes and preconceptions. When Frith first encounters the notorious Copper Cat, he’s a little disappointed :
“Frith had imagined a tall, curvaceous woman, with hair as red as blood tumbling unbidden to her waist, a pair of green eyes as playful and cruel as a cat’s, and armour that perhaps did not leave much to the imagination. In truth the Copper Cat was a young woman of average height with short, carroty hair, freckles across her nose and almost every inch of her covered in boiled leather armour. As he watched, she paused to kick a lump of something unmentionable off one of her boots ; it didn’t appear to make the boots any more presentable.”
Wydrin, dirty, scruffy, smart-mouthed Wydrin, is one of the most endearing fantasy characters of the last few years, and she’s deeper, smarter, more vulnerable and at the same time more deadly that she first appears. Even Frith, who at first, second and third glances seems like a bit of a shit, is revealed to have a softer, more compassionate side by the final battle with Y’Ruen, the furious dragon-god who is blasting the hell out of the countryside.
Something that struck me was the significance of words to the narrative – Frith learns to control the magic he has absorbed by painting controlling words on scraps of linen and tying them round himself, and the priests of Relios tattoo magic words on every inch of their skin. Even the brood army, the green-skinned children of Y’Ruen, find power and their own identity, even their own salvation, in the words they find in books.
“The Copper Promise” is an excellent book, stuffed with all the ingredients of sword and sorcery mixed to a fresh new recipe. It’s a shamelessly good old-fashioned blood-and-thunder tale, heroic fantasy the way it’s meant to be, of the kind that makes old men sigh and mutter “they don’t make ’em like that any more…” Well, now they make ’em like that again. Three cheers for the Copper Cat of Crosshaven, and mine’s a pint…
*Not me. I like big books and I cannot lie.