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Brilliant fun (and often wonderfully horrid) fantasy adventure!
on 7 November 2017
The Copper Promise was the debut novel by Jen Williams, back in 2014 - I pre-ordered the trade paperback and then took over three years to get round to reading it. What can I say? It was a bit big to lug around on trains and busses...
The first thing to say is that this is a brilliant fantasy novel. The first in a trilogy because of course fantasy, but The Copper Promise would hold up as a standalone in its own right.
It's like... I read a lot of fantasy. And to be honest, I slightly hate most of it. To the extent that I (and my friends) really question why I'm bothering to read it. I feel like I'm always trying to recapture the steel-hook-in-my-guts reaction of my first reading of Lord of the Rings, or Douglas Hill's Blade of the Poisoner, or even the Narnia books, back when I was a very young reader. Nothing quite excites me in the same way, probably because most of them are either slavish Tolkien imitators, or reacting against Tolkien so hard that you can see them playing a sulky game of Opposites with the Middle Earth maestro. And maybe because I'm now in my late 30s, who knows?
So I fell into a haze of loving Discworld novels, and yawning at just about everything else I read in the genre. But The Copper Promise bucked the trend. On the face of it, there's no reason why it should - a big swordy guy and a sneaky rogue go on the pillage in a scary dungeon and unleash a dragon (is that a spoiler? I hope not, it's kind of on the cover). There's a complex system of magic, a fair chunk of sadism, and loads of fighting.
But the book's plot is an intricately-crafted thing. If there are a few storyline-expedient coincidences, that's something that you can forgive in the frenetic pace, which somehow manages to accelerate through the book from an already brisk start.
And mostly, I think the book's magic ingredient is Wydrin, the Copper Cat. While some of the book's characters speak in the cod-Shakespearean "they must think us fools!" melodrama register, Wydrin comes across as a thoroughly modern creation, though believably a product of the world which created her. Sarcastic, mischievous, boozy, and fun to be around, she punctures the occasional sullen brow-beating from the party's two male members (and occasional guests).
So, fast-paced fantasy adventure, with a brilliantly fun tone even when the drama's all getting incredibly grim. Well-drawn, interesting characters, who you'd probably quite like to have a pint with, and two more books worth to enjoy once you've finished this one. I'm in.