The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

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One word: FUN.

That’s The Copper Promise in a nutshell, beyond anything else it may be. If you take anything else away from this review know that it’s ridiculously, stupendously, maniacally FUN. But beyond that it’s fresh, while maintaining lots of call-backs to classic Sword & Sorcery; it’s hilarious, in that endearingly British tongue-in-cheek wink-wink nudge-nudge kinda way that never goes over the top; and it’s progressive, with a male/female duo at the forefront who are rogueish, charming and nothing more than best of friends.

There’s Sebastian, the down-on-his-luck knight in shining armour who has all the things you’d expect in a fantasy knight: courage, honour and strength, but has been persecuted and cast out of his order due to his sexuality. And there’s Wydrin – the rogueish madman (cough) who’s always raring for a fight, willing to jump into a barrel of dragons at a moment’s notice and generally found otherwise drunk/fighting/sharpening weapons. (delete as appropriate) The difference here is that Wydrin is a mad-woman, and oh what a character she is. There’s not a scene she doesn’t steal, a heart she doesn’t squeeze (perhaps literally and certainly figuratively) or a fight she doesn’t start. She’s a fantastic creation and sits firmly at the centre of this adventure, playing off every other character fantastically – above all else Sebastian. The final main character here is the young Lord Frith, but to say too much about him would be spoiling the party.

The book is basically a series of interconnected D&D-style adventures, each of which star our leads as they are thrust into the gaping mouth of danger – or in Wydrin’s case, jump head first – with the first involving a trip into a dungeon-like Citadel to recover the powers of the long forgotten mages, where they unleash something a lot worse that will dog them throughout the rest of their adventures. It makes for a page-turning novel that essentially has four mini-narrative threads connected mainly by events that occur in the first. It’s a clever device that makes each of the four adventures feel complete in-and-of themselves, and yet allowing an overarching arc to connect them together.

Everything about The Copper Promise screams fun and Fantasy – there’s dragons, magic, pirates, swords, magic armour, demons, gods, monsters, battles and lots of mead. Everything’s cosy and familiar, but the character dynamics are fresh and exciting, bringing in a modern mindset to stories that might otherwise have easily slotted into the 80s myriad of D&D adventures. Williams’ writing style is quick-paced and tongue-in-cheek, keeping a firm hold on the rapid pace but always remaining self-aware, allowing the personalities of her characters to shine through.

There’s not much negative to say about The Copper Promise. If you don’t like episodic adventures it might not be for you, and if you want a fantasy world that’s entirely original in its makeup you might feel a bit stuck in the past. But really it’s a superb bit of pulpy modern Sword & Sorcery that you just…don’t see enough of anymore. And with the second one, The Iron Ghost, out this month, there’s no better time to get to know Sebastian the Ynnsmouth Knight and The Copper Cat of Crosshaven.

Control Point by Myke Cole

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Control Point is set in an alternate version of the modern world where people are ‘coming up Latent’ – suddenly developing magical powers. The ability to manipulate fire, ice, water, the air, weather, the earth and a lot more are manifesting in everyone from your average guy on the street to foreign diplomats and politicians. And, in the case of Oscar Britton, soldiers. The story follows Britton as he develops the incredibly rare power of Portamancy – the ability to create razor-thin gateways to anywhere he can imagine; a power that the US military see as a major coup. But as unauthorised people with Latent powers – ‘Selfers’ – are usually hunted down for purposes unknown by the US government, Oscar goes on the run and it’s only a matter of time before they catch up to him.

I originally read the first third or so of Control Point a couple of years ago and found it quite difficult to get into. Britton is an unusual character as he has a constant internal monologue that questions everything and he seems to change his mind with every other thought. The opening set-piece, involving an attack on a school that’s got Selfers hiding inside, is really good and an exciting hook. But when Oscar goes on the run and we spend around 150 pages with him and his stressed-to-the-max thoughts it gets a little tedious despite the fast pace. So I left it there. But with all the praise Myke’s books have gotten since Control Point (which seems to be widely considered his weakest) I’ve been dying to get around to them. So this week I decided that I’d just go for it and try it again, and frustratingly (in hindsight) I was probably only a chapter away from where it gets reeeeeally good.

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Things pick up when Oscar is brought to SOC (I forget the full name) – basically magical school for the US military. It’s all very training montage with some cliché bits and pieces in there but man alive is it fun. The whole system of magic is so well integrated into the modern military setting that it feels fresh and innovative, despite there not actually being anything particularly new with regards the powers. Peter V. Brett was right when he described it as X-men meets Black Hawk Down.

Another reason things really improve in the latter half of the book involve the supporting cast introduced at the SOC. The Full Metal Jacket-esque Chief Warrant Officer Fitzy is page-chewingly horrific, stealing many scenes, and Britton’s team (Shadow Coven) is made up of some very well realised characters. And there’s Scylla, who is clearly being set up for later books as someone to be feared. Massively. All this perhaps highlights the main issue with Control Point: Oscar Britton himself. He’s a bit reactionary – until the end – and yet as already stated, has a strange internal monologue that constantly questions everything. As a military man it’s strange that he would be so constantly poor at following orders or at questioning his betters. He is probably supposed to come over as someone who overthinks everything and is a bit indecisive, but really he seems a bit childish.

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All in all though on this go around I really enjoyed Control Point. Soundbite time (though surely someone’s already beaten me to it): If Harry Potter grew up and joined the US military you’d get something like this. It’s a lot of fun, filled with great action sequences and by all accounts the books gets better and better. I’m excited.