Jen Williams – The Iron Ghost

jenwilliams-theironghostBeware the dawning of a new mage…

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking…

Last year Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise, the first book in this series, surprised me with the insane amount of fun it was. I loved the effervescent Wydrin, the conscientious Sir Sebastian, and the troubled Lord Frith. This meant I was very much looking forward to returning to these characters in The Iron Ghost. And Williams delivers on the promise of the first novel with this second book. The Iron Ghost is just as much fun as The Copper Promise, while upping the drama and narrative stakes. Wydrin remains brilliant, but I liked the more pronounced roles of Frith and Sebastian in this outing. 

One of my main hopes for The Iron Ghost was that we’d learn more about the brood sisters, the unexpected dragonkin we met in the first book and discover more about their connection to Sebastian. My wish was granted in full, as we get to spend a lot of time with just Sebastian and the brood sisters and these passages were as fascinating as I could have hoped. The way their development influences Sebastian’s development over the course of the book was wonderful and tied very neatly into his arc from the last book. Ephemeral in particular was a lovely character to follow. I really liked Sebastian’s story arc in this book in general. Sebastian once again finds himself stuck in a moral quagmire and finds himself wondering whether someone’s nature is something that can and should be overcome. This question recurs in several different incarnations throughout his story allowing the reader to see his changing perspective develop clearly.

But Sebastian isn’t the only one facing moral quandaries; Frith faces several of them as well and is forced to make the hardest choices. Frith’s was the most compelling storyline in this book for me. His development as regards his feelings for Wydrin and his magic and the dilemmas he’s faced with were fascinating and I really liked how Williams approached them. Frith is a man who has to rediscover not just himself and his place in the world, but also whether he wants to return to his old life or perhaps build a far different, happier one. Frith’s scenes with Joah and their essential mirroring of each other were compelling; I kept hoping that Frith might even redeem Joah and take the story in a different direction, even if Williams never hints at this possibility.

Joah Demonsworn was freaking scary, especially as he’s so human in his desire for a connection to another living being. If you thought Y’Ruen from The Copper Promise was a scary villain, she had nothing on Joah and his demon sidekick Bezcavar. I loved the partnership between Joah and Bezcavar, as Williams is constantly shifting the balance of power between them, which keeps their dynamic interesting throughout the book. Williams not only presents a great set of new villains, she also adds some wonderful new allies for our intrepid trio, in the forms of Nuava, one of the inhabitants of Skaldshollow, Prince Dallen of the Narhl, and Mendrick, one of the Skaldshollow werken. The latter is a truly unexpected character and one that I found very appealing, while the former two are just lovely characters who not only have great interactions with the main characters, but who also have interesting arcs of their own.

The Iron Ghost had a far less fix-up novel feel than the previous book. The Copper Promise was a collection of four previously published novellas, which meant that the transitions between parts of the novel sometimes felt somewhat abrupt and disorienting. The transitions between parts in The Iron Ghost was far smoother and it didn’t feel as if the stories could be read separately, which did seem possible in the previous book. I don’t know how well the story would work standalone without having read The Copper Promise, since there isn’t necessarily much explanation for happenings in the first book. While it would probably still be an enjoyable book, the story might be a tad frustrating in places as it isn’t as easy to understand what happened and what is happening now in the story without knowing what happened in The Copper Promise.

Despite this last caveat though, The Iron Ghost is a criminal amount of fun layered over an exploration of right versus good, decorated with liberal scatterings of sneaky zombies, some crazy mages, a flock of wyverns, and a staunch set of heroes. Williams doesn’t pull any punches with her characters and no one is safe in this rollercoaster ride. I loved The Iron Ghost and I’m really hoping that one day we’ll get to travel with the Black Feather Three again. Recommended for all fans of adventurous fantasy and good sword and sorcery romps.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.