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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.
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on 23 January 2017
This was an action packed read but not necessarily in a good way. It had dragons, knights, magic, forbidden and forgotten places to explore and a multitude of mythical creatures. The three main characters: a Lord looking for justice, a disgraced knight and an easy going sell sword inadvertently release a dragon god from a forbidden citadel and havoc ensues.

I love reading fantasy because the author has a clean slate, and if they have the talent they can create something from scratch that can mesmerise you and enable you to become heavily engrossed in their world (Robin Hobb is a great example). So Jem Williams has a lot of good ideas here; the world building was rich. But sadly, it was event driven rather than character driven. Events happened, and the cast moved on to the next adventure, it didn't have time to breathe and deepen.

I couldn't really empathise with any of the characters and that was a real problem. I was carried along as opposed to being invested. So whilst it contained the classic troupes mentioned above, it didn't amaze me.

There are some genuinely interesting elements here; the dragon's brood - a homogenised army of inhuman, cold blooded killers - ironically show the most growth and have the greatest character arc but overall, although it's an easy read, it's not great.

6/10
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on 16 June 2017
Loved the story and characters. Once i skipped the graphic torture scenes in the first chapter, which nearly made me throw the book away before i really got into the story Be warned, there are some really gruesome bits, which i could have done without.
However a fresh and beautifully written book. The very personable stars, the Copper Cat; a naughty and madcap girl, the strong solemn knight and the intense clever mage-in-the-making will fall into your hearts and you will care for them and enjoy every minute of their story.
One star off for the graphic horrible-ness.
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on 21 January 2016
Not your typical fantasy story! There's gods and magic and a quest, but...whoo-ee. Let's add a zombie, comments on the nature of individuality and self, a variety of powers and motives, a Knight who's struggling with a lot of demons (some old, some new), a thief who's snarky, chatty and fun, and a git with a revenge motive that's entirely cliche but never gets in the way. Then throw in a fast-paced plot and excellent writing, and you might get why I enjoyed this book so much!
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on 10 September 2015
Recently I’d heard a few good rumblings about The Copper Promise by Jen Williams, praising it for being a forward-thinking fantasy novel not only written by a woman but with a strong female lead.

It looked and sounded quite good: Strong female character? Check. Magic, wizards and gods? Check. World-ending bad guy? Check. It ticks all the boxes, but I found that it fell short of the mark. Not bad, but it didn’t hold a candle to infinitely better books such as Graceling by Kristin Cashore or Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. (I’m drawing a comparison here on female leads that fight in a traditionally male way).

On the surface it has all the components of a good book. For me the clincher was that I never quite felt like a I really connected with the characters. I’m a complete sucker for a female character filling a typically male role and kicking arse while she does it, but I struggled to connect with Wydrin. I didn’t find her especially likable, traits that are meant to be endearingly abrasive are just irritating and at times she becomes a bit of a caricature of the strong female warrior. Other characters aren’t much better, either – Sir Sebastian (the once great knight kicked out of his order for breaking his vow of celibacy) is a bit full of self pity and even the “bad guy” is the usual all-consuming hate with little originality.

The wasn’t completely without its merits. The daughters/sisters who formed the bulk of the bad guys were a more imaginative take on the idea of the evil army, and there was enough in it to keep me reading all the way to the end, albeit not in the compelling must-finish-it-now way. There were some delightfully creepy moments too, lending it a good horror story edge.

The writing style was readable if nothing to rave about. It avoided overblown prose and tortured imagery, and sometimes the fact that a writing style is not noticeable is a recommendation in itself, allowing the reader to focus on the story. There were a few disconnects between sections, almost as if they were written as separate short stories and then later put together and called a full-length book.

Perhaps it was the hype skewing my expectations but it didn’t live up to what I thought it would be. It is a readable and mildly entertaining book, but one that (if I hadn’t been reading the ebook) I’d be putting in the charity-shop pile rather than on my already creaking and overloaded bookshelves.
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on 28 September 2015
That alone would get it an above-average helping of stars but this novel is also a multi-faceted adventure that gleefully subverts a number of beguiling but insidious conventions, like the expected appearance of the main female character and tedious notions of manhood associated with warriors.
We get stuck straight in to the story, about a motley group of bickering adventurers who raid a forbidden citadel and unwittingly cause the kind of unrelenting carnage normally found in apocalyptic science fiction. There are many great details, from the little cloth guardians to the urns of power that contain nothing more than crusted material. There is magic all right but it’s a bit mucky. And there’s blood. Lots and lots of blood. Red blood, green blood; it’s everywhere, even plants drink it en route to the maw of a particularly vicious demon who, in common with much of this often witty but gripping tale, comes in unexpectedly handy.
Then there is the brood army. I love the brood army; I hope they get their own novel. They start as the spawn of an absolute git of a dragon, a beast whose beauty is entirely at odds with her elegant but pointless sadism. The army is also beautiful and female, although green instead of blue like their mother. Kind of reptilian but also weirdly sexy, a contingent of them start to become more human in ways they do not understand and mummy is not best pleased…
Meanwhile, the maimed victim of the opening chapter’s torture scene seeks vengeance on his persecutors, who form the last of the triptych of despicable but compelling villainy. The maimed character, Lord Frith, seems to undergo the greatest change, using his hard-won power in increasingly generous and inventive ways. However, the big heart of the novel is the slightly butch-yet-feminine and very capable heroine Wydrin, who is so well-drawn I feel like I know her. Less mouthy but perhaps more moving is the mournfully noble disgraced knight Sir Sebastian, who has his own unexpected side.
This is a big book but I read it quickly and you should do the same.
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on 10 January 2016
Jen Williams’ debut, The Copper Promise, is billed as being a fantasy thrill ride and has been likened to a Dungeons and Dragons quest in novel format. It’s mostly well-paced and fun to read, with some interesting plot points as we join a party of adventurers taking on a job for a wealthy benefactor who is seeking the power to avenge his family. Originally, The Copper Promise was released in four parts, and you can see this in the writing as there are four well defined sections to the novel, however the linking between them is not so smooth, meaning the story seems to jump around a bit.

The characters and world are ok but not overly memorable – the jumping around in the storyline is a bit too literal, with magical travelling perhaps being overused and preventing the reader from seeing much of the land. The magic itself is well done however, with a clear portrayal of how this works although I almost feel cheated at the prospect of someone becoming a great mage just by walking into a magic pool. Overall this is a fun read, but one that could benefit from being neatened up in a few areas.
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on 15 January 2017
This book came to me with the strongest of recommendations – “best book I’ve read all year” – so does it live up to it?
Not really for me; it just goes to show how people’s tastes vary.
That is not to say it is a bad book, because it is not. The setting is fairly traditional, there’s a dragon and lots of magic, the characters are engaging and there’s plenty of action to keep you turning the pages. It’s just that I never felt connected to the 3 main characters; particularly Wydrin – the Copper Cat. She’s brave, smart and reckless but I never felt I knew what she wanted or how she became what she is, and that left a void at the centre of the story for me.
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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.
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on 15 April 2018
Characters, plot, adventure and great writing ...why can't others do this?
I loved the characters: imperfect and genuine . Female leads in this genre tend to be great beauties gifted with some sort of special talent that makes others love them. Here we have a female lead who fights and is witty and interesting. A refreshing change in female portrayal.
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