on 19 March 2015
The Copper Promise is a breath of fresh air in the often stuffy world of epic fantasy. Perhaps that’s because it is better described as heroic fantasy. The worldbuilding is on the light side and, granted, that may deter more nerdy types, but Williams offers just the right amount of setting against which to play out her story. And it’s a brilliant story, led by three distinct characters.
Wydrin is an audacious sell-sword and a thoroughly modern woman. Sir Sebastian carries the intriguing title of disgraced knight (think Sturm from Dragonlance with more grit and a far more precarious preoccupation with honour). And then we have Lord Frith, a young, anguished ‘princeling’ (in Wydrin’s words), tortured and hounded from his ancestral home in the Blackwood.
I readily admit that I have a tiny obsession with Frith. He is a wonderfully multi-faceted character whom you cannot help but love. His moral compass may be somewhat short of decent, but that makes him a far more credible human being considering his tough past.
Williams effectively portrays contemporary issues and relationships, using devices rarely found in fantasy with a traditional bent. Specifics aside, I thought Sebastian’s predicament was communicated with a light, perceptive touch, which was never an overt broadcast of the author’s own opinion. Out of the three protagonists, Sebastian probably develops the most, and I liked him better for his weaknesses. I hope I don’t sound too crude when I say that Williams drags the untarnished knight stereotype through the dirt.
Wydrin is the most confident in her own abilities. She has a distinctive personality, again atypical of a fantasy hero. She can be annoying and charming in equal measure and provides some much needed common sense in times of difficulty. Often she alone recognises the reality of a situation, while the men hot-headedly act without thinking. She gets my vote for that trait alone.
I think you can clearly see by the structure of this review that the characters carry the story. When we do have setting, it’s well-realised, but not belaboured. Williams doesn’t revel in long-winded descriptions of place. She paints what needs to be painted and drops her characters straight into the scene. If you are in any way weary of great-complicated-empire-type fantasy, this is the book for you.
The magic system is pretty straight-forward, but I liked the twist of writing the words of control on bandages which the mage then wears into battle. Even though the magic of the mages is powerful, there are many limitations on its use, which – as Williams herself has publicly discussed – ensures that our heroes don’t have too easy a time of it.
I was rather surprised at how quickly the book wrapped up. I expected the last narrative arc to take place in a subsequent book, perhaps because I am so used to long-drawn out plots. Even though the denouement unfolds over a scant few pages, it doesn’t seem rushed, which is indicative of real ability on the author’s part. Although The Copper Promise works well as a stand-alone novel, the ending is left open for subsequent adventures. And I wouldn’t miss those for the world.
In conclusion, this is a confident, well-written debut with an echo of Dungeons and Dragons. Its superb character-driven narrative simultaneously breaks the mould while remaining true to traditional sword and sorcery adventure. Throw in one suitably malevolent dragon and you have yourself an epic book.
The Copper Promise is a highly accomplished début by a fresh new voice. Jen Williams managed to evoke the excitement I found in the best Dungeon and Dragons sessions I played in, whilst delivering a a cast a great characters and a compelling plot.
The book is broken into distinct sections, the first of which is pure dungeon crawl. A legendary citadel, filled with fabled treasure. Three mercenaries want to break in and plunder its depths. Impatience and arrogance split the party (fools!) from the outset and the predictable disaster ensues. Another member joins the adventure - the cantankerous Lord Frith, a crippled noble deposed from his seat and tortured in the process. His bitterness and desire for revenge drive much of the novel's plot. In seeking the treasure the three unleash an ancient evil and the rest of the novel sees them trying to put it back in the box.
The three central characters are what hold The Copper Promise together. Fallen knight Sebastian and fellow mercenary Wydrin, who has a fast sword and quicker tongue, are a great partnership. Frith, their single-minded and aloof employer makes a great foil for the pair and the triumvirate form a strong nucleus around which Williams constructs her story. The secondary characters are strong too, bolstered by Williams' strong ear for dialogue (if an ear can be strong). The surrounding plot is packed full of ideas. Demons, magic and hidden gods. Conflicted knights, the walking dead and a wonderfully realised reptilian brood army.
The depiction of the serpent brood, the demon 'Prince of Wounds' and the subtle way in which these two get under the skin of fallen knight Sebastian are pitch perfect. The internal conflict within Sebastian is a contest more interesting than the plight to save the world. It gives rise to some of the finest character writing I've seen in fantasy fiction.
I loved this aspect of the plot so much it almost made the overreaching story arc of the destruction of the world seem superfluous. The ravaging of the landscape by the central villain feels heavy handed; like a sledgehammer compared with what has come before. The last section, where the ultimate bad guy is confronted, reads like a bolt on. Things certainly seem wrapped up in haste. I have to wonder whether it would have been better to do away with the central villain altogether. Apart from some great thrills and spills, I'm not sure it improved the book.
But then, who cares? As a reviewer one can sometimes be guilty of finding fault for the sake of it. This is a fine novel that I enjoyed from first page to last. The characterisation is second to none, and there are some great new innovations and interesting reworkings of old tropes. I particularly liked the way magic works. The novel stands in its own right, which is always good, yet there is plenty of scope for more stories. With her three central characters Jen Williams has created something special. I can envisage reading tale after tale that featured them without ever getting tired. This book may have been based on the promise of copper but it delivers gold.
on 28 December 2011
There is, in my mind, something of a bit of a kind of a stigma regarding the world of self-publishing. I don't tend to hold a lot of faith in it.
Sure there are good writers getting stuff out there but unless someone points me in their direction then I generally wouldn't risk it.
My reticence is waning however as it's becoming more apparent that works that are out there are done as thoroughly proper as is possible with beta readers, proof readers, endless editing and fine tuning and suchlike and so forth and this, The Copper Promise, is one of those polished nuggets.
It's a fast-paced fantasy, and I will use the word "romp" here, romp that is a commuters dream read (apart from those horrible moments when you miss your stop because you're thoroughly engrossed in the action that is burning into your senses).
I'm a big admirer of long, drawn-out, epic fantasy epic saga epics that take a million pages just to describe the layout of a village that ends up being destroyed anyway by a grumpy dragon or evil mage or some such miserable nemesis or other but sometimes you don't know what you want until you see it.
Copper Promise is a tight, fast and yet somehow intricate tale that is begging for someone to yell "MOVIE RIGHTS!" and I flippin' loved it.
I can't wait for the next part and that's a solid gold fact on a raft of platinum on a sea of diamonds.
With deft skill Jennifer has created a world and politics and characters that are real from the moment you first encounter them.
If you know Jennifer then I think it's your duty to lock her in a room and feed her sweets and wine until she's finished the story. At least say that you will; actually doing it might be a little on the illegal side.
Buy it, I flippin' dare you.
Also... I think I have something of a slight crush on Wydrin.
If like me, you have a yearning to return to the old days of fantasy for that lustre of ancient gold as well as an epic story of heroics then you have to pick up this debut novel by Jen Williams that will scratch that itch. Within is a tale that has great characters, some wonderful turns of phrase and more than fulfils the desires of the reader within the pages for a return to the old days of Forgotten Realms that still not only hold a place in my heart but on my bookshelves.
Throw into the mix characters that have their own motives, some wonderful dialogue and of course a whole set of problems that will leave them questioning their abilities and all round I was a more than happy reader. Great stuff.
on 30 November 2015
Well I had fairly big expectations that this would be a fun, bloody romp through a fantasy world and... sadly it just wasn't for me. I'd heard it was tongue-in-cheek, hilarious, progressive, nodded heavily towards swords and sorcery of old, and was mostly a series of entertaining D&D adventures. What I got was a perfectly ok story in that old style vein and with a better balance of gender & sexuality than you'd have found in the 80s, but not a lot more than that. Clearly it clicked for a lot of people but I wasn't one. The story, being in the classic S&S vein, wasn't really interesting, the world little more than a background to the current quest.
I think liking Wydrin is crucial to the book, because Sebastian was understandably very dour and Frith was a noble son bent on revenge, but she never became more than a good idea to me, never came to life at all. Roguish, madcap, drunken, violent, crass... all these things should make me love her but never really convinced - the characteristics and the humour often felt forced rather than flowing naturally, much like a fair bit of the dialogue. So I didn't hate her, but I barely liked her and when she's the pin holding the novel together, that's an issue.
The originality folk have suggested, well I didn't see that. This is an entry-level fantasy for me, a good introduction to the genre (and perhaps a suitable replacement for the older books that would look badly sexist/homophobic in today's light, if you wanted to read some classic D&D) but it just didn't have the nuance or development you'd want from most books and wasn't engaging enough for brainless mayhem.
The brood army's changing personality had potential but wasn't focused on to do more than be useful at the end, Sebastian's sexuality itself wasn't explored beyond just being a reason for his backstory. Partly this was to keep the pace going but the book was about five hundred pages long - lose an adventure out of the plot and explore the people a bit more.
There was a love interest for Sebastian that never turned into anything, it doesn't need to turn into a detailed sex scene but a few complications that were emotional in origin would have elevated this significantly. small margins maybe, but it left me with a deep sense of expecting more because the adventures weren't very exciting and it was too old-school to have any real peril for the main characters. I'm happy to have something violent and fun and not explore the characters, but I've got to enjoy it more.
I think for me to like this the humour would need to be stronger, the action more heart-pounding, the violence more weighty, the peril more real - or at least a couple of those in combination. So yeah, not for me, but for someone twenty years younger who's not been living and breathing fairly dark stuff for most of that, this could be the perfect entry point to the genre.
Thank you to the author and publisher for the review copy.
There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
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 Caverson, 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.
I loved this one – such a read of pure pleasure, adventure and mayhem, some wonderful characters and a quest Indiana Jones would have been proud of.
Sebastian and Wydrin are hired by Lord Frith to search the caverns beneath the Citadel, Sebastian having the secondary plan to track down a friend who has recently disappeared there. What they find is unexpected and dangerous and what follows is a wonderful magical adventure with some heartstopping action and intriguing world building.
Wydrin is a beautifully drawn character, hilarious and pragmatic with an ironic edge, as she and her companions face the dangers of the Citadel both together and separately, I was with her all the way. Those surrounding her are equally well drawn and as a group they work extremely well together.
I don’t want to give too much away but we have fantastic creatures, hidden secrets, an ancient enemy and many many shenanigans. Absolutely perfect reading. Bring on the next adventure!
Happy Reading Folks!
on 23 February 2012
Normally I am not overly enamoured with the fantasy genre. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule, Scott Lynch and China Mieville for example, both of whom I enjoy due to their ability to eschew or twist the fantasy tropes that usually have me raising my eyes skyward.
And its this twisting and subtle subversion of the usual sub Tolkienesque fantasy quest that makes Jennifer Williams' Copper Promise an enjoyable, albeit swift, read. In much the same way as Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards were lovable and likeable rogues in a fantasy setting which could have easily been transposed to a modern day setting or even science fiction. So, does Williams' triumvirate of Wydrin, the heavy drinking, irreverent, quick witted, deadly heroine; Sebastian the noble mountain knight and the vengeance fuelled deposed Lord Frith, also skew the standard tropes. Sure, there is the requisite dungeon crawling and nameless terrors lurking in the deep black of the titular Citadel. However, there is a wry sense of humour and a feeling throughout that the tongue is firmly in the cheek, but not in a way that suggests parody or sneering at the genre, rather an effusive love and affection for it.
As mentioned earlier, the story is short. However, its length helps the tale, instead of hindering it. The reader gets a sense of the world and people in it without the back breaking weight of several million chapters about the history of the world or songs that refer to great deeds that only the truly obsessed will enjoy (yes Tolkien, I'm looking at you). Yes these kinds of details can enrich the background of a story, but too often in the fantasy genre this over detailing sinks what is usually a straight forward tale. Williams clearly understands this, deftly suggesting a world without being bogged down in it and slowing what is a pacey, and most importantly, enjoyable read that has me eagerly awaiting the second part.
on 21 January 2012
The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel is one of those utterly pleasurable finds; totally unexpected and very rewarding.
The plot itself is quite straightforward (a relief after all those many hefty complex fantasy tomes of late), the joy of the story coming from the great characters, their relationships and the rollicking exuberance with which it all rattles along.
Copper Promise 2 can't come soon enough!
on 12 May 2015
The Copper Promise is a pacy, intriguing and thoughtful book, that flirts with going "Old Skool" but eventually decides to be ... unique. It's one of those stories that bursts with ideas - but it isn't a story about ideas: it's a story about three believable characters who bump into each other, and who kick of a series of events that threaten to change the world - in an "oh my lord it's catastrophic" kind of way. The original version of the story was released as a series of novellas, and that does affect the structure, but it's very far from being episodic. I've heard The Copper Promise described as "The Anti Grimdark", but if you want BIG dilemmas, and life and death (and death and death and death), then this is a great book to read. It's easy on the eyeballs, but, as I mentioned above, I found myself getting to the end of it ... and thinking about it for days after.
on 27 February 2012
In the best tradition of Robert E Howard, Jen William's novella is filled with mysterious fortresses, long-forgotten lands, 'heroes' only in it for themselves, heaving taverns, hidden treasures and ghastly monsters. Unlike Howard, however, The Copper Promise is populated with the kind of lovably-dastardly characters you find in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the strong female leads of something like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the bizarre opponents that might appear in an off-the-wall scifi comic. This fusion of classic, epic storytelling with modern sensibilities makes fantasy seem fresh and exciting again. Overall, this is barely a toe-dip into the world of The Copper Promise, but we can expect much more to come from this series and from Williams herself. You'd be crazy not to snap up a story this good for just a couple of pounds.