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 be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart.
And they’re not even getting paid.
The Copper Promise was one of this spring’s books I was looking forward to reading a lot, as I’d heard very good things about the novella when it was previously published – most notably Graeme Flory’s review at his old blog – and it sounded like a really fun romp. So when the book was selected as the February title for the Hodderscape Review Project, I was stoked and got to reading with gusto. And I have to say, Graeme was completely right; this reworked and expanded version of that original novella was highly entertaining and reminiscent of classic sword and sorcery, but updated and lacking some of the more problematic elements of the classic sword and sorcery novels.
The book had three lead characters, Wydrin, Sebastian, and Frith. All of them are interesting and it’s hard to pick a favourite, though it’s hard to resist Wydrin’s effervescent personality and free spirit. But beneath the happy-go-lucky exterior lurks a far more complex woman, something we see come to the fore in her interactions with her brother and in her care for Sebastian. Both Sebastian and Frith are far more openly troubled. I loved Sebastian’s struggle with doing what was right versus doing what was Good. The reason he’s left Isu’s Order was revealed in good time, though I’d figured it out far earlier and I wonder whether that was the intent or because I’m a good guesser. Frith’s burning desire for revenge is sometimes frighteningly obsessive, at times making him lose sight of those around him and their feelings. I did very much enjoy the interplay between him and Wydrin. There is no outright romance in the book, no fated meant-to-be love, but a growing companionship, that made the eventual outcome even more heartfelt.
Williams includes some very cool elements in her story, such as dragons, ancient gods, demons and a word-based magic. There is a lot of complex interweaving of storylines which are all linked, yet at the same time seem somewhat unconnected in their telling, almost seeming separate adventures made to fit the same timeline. I loved the brood army and their connection to Sebastian. I really liked the scenes we got from their perspective and I would have loved to have learned more of them and to see more of them in the future. There are many interesting secondary characters we meet, but my favourite had to be Ip, a young girl Sebastian rescues from a temple. I loved her devious nature and the twist Williams plays with her. There is a constant interplay between evoking the classic sword and sorcery vibe in the narrative and twisting the tropes in new and fresh ways.
The Copper Promise is comprised of four novellas originally and this background can still be felt in the book, as the transitions between the parts can feel a little abrupt. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the parts each end in rather big cliff hangers and that felt abrupt to me. The book does form a coherent whole however and I liked that the ending was a clear ending, but one that also left the door ajar for Williams to return to these characters for more adventures. The writing is very smooth and I enjoyed that the characters’ voices are quite distinct from one another; they don’t sound alike. While Wydrin, Sebastian, and Frith are very much the main characters there are several characters that get their own point of view chapters, most notably the Thirty-Third, one of the members of the brood army, and Gallo, a sell-sword who sometimes works with Wydrin and Sebastian.
The Copper Promise was all it promised and more. It’s a wonderful sword and sorcery novel with some very memorable characters and a dragon to boot. If you enjoy full-throttle action, awesome monsters, and fun, snarky dialogues then The Copper Promise is definitely a story you won’t want to miss. I loved Jen Williams’ debut novel and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes next. Hopefully we’ll see more of our intrepid trio at some point in the future as well.