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.

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