Being an active networker in publishing realms, I have found that I come across new and interesting writers is relatively curious ways. For instance, I am a big fan of literary agent Juliet Mushens. Who knew agents could have fans? As part of my active fangirling, I have read a number of her authors including Liz de Jager, Francesca Haig, and now Jennifer Williams. I have sadly not yet read Jessie Burton’s widely acclaimed The Miniaturist yet, though it is on my to-read pile, and I am eagerly awaiting Peter Newman’s debut.
Through Juliet, I discovered Jen Williams on twitter. She quickly became one of my favourite twitter people. A writer who loves tea and cake… ummm, what’s not to love there? Another author whose debut I am looking forward to, Lucy Hounsom, gave Williams’ debut novel, The Copper Promise, a five star rating on Goodreads. If that wasn’t enough to have me running for the ‘buy now’ button, Williams then penned a short article about why humour and fun is a necessary part of great fantasy fiction for Fantasy Faction. I knew then that this would absolutely be my kind of writer and The Copper Promise my kind of book.
What to expect from The Copper Promise
The Copper Promise is a fairly traditional narrative when it comes to the lighter end of fantasy novels. There are lords, princes, thieves, dragons, sell swords, demons, gods, magic, and of course a grand adventure. Where the characters’ moral compasses are not quite so pointed to ‘good’ and what’s right, by the end of the novel, they have certainly done their bit to save the world. But that is exactly what you want from a book like this – a great, epic story, with fun characters and plenty of wit. And Williams delivers on all these points.
The novel opens on a group of morally ambiguous sell swords taking on a job from a frail-looking princeling. He agrees to pay them handsomely for helping him enter a forbidden castle and discover the treasures inside. Of course, as these things go, there was a bloody good reason entry into the castle was forbidden: public safety. In their travels, the group inadvertently wakes a sleeping god and her brood army. Chaos and death ensues as they each search their souls to find what is important to them. There’s plenty of peril, angst, and drinking involved as the intrepid team try to get to grips on what the hell is going on before it’s too late.
‘…although he was entirely naked, he was oddly featureless – or at least, he was missing the usual features Wydrin looked for first in a naked man.’
As a big fan of the David Eddings series The Belgariad, I have long been a fan of a good tongue in cheek, humourous take on fantasy adventure tales. While The Copper Promise might not lampoon fantasy tropes in quite so direct a fashion, it certainly relishes in wit and humour throughout. No one and no subject matter is beyond William’s witty pen. Even in moments of crisis, her characters find the time to make fun of death, for instance. Their poor dead and decaying friend (though through the power of magic is still walking and talking) suffers almost constant, belligerent teasing about his foul stench.
An unexpected journey
In many fantasy novels, the ‘journeys’ involved are beyond dull. Come on, even you hardcore Tolkein fans will know what I’m talking about (if not, Clerks II explains it for you). Sure, I understand that most of this kind of fantasy is set in a medieval style world, there’s no cars or planes. How else are people going to get around without walking or riding horses? But still, why do we have to have so much of the books taken up with the getting there rather than the actual action?
Thankfully, Jen Williams seems to be a girl after my own heart. There is a lot of travelling in this book, a lot of distance covered. But you know what? It’s done as quickly as possible in terms of what the reader has to wade through. Sometimes they travel by instantaneous magic, sometimes by giant flying griffin, but there is plenty of the more mundane – walking and boats, for instance. But Williams is acutely aware that what makes a story interesting is the action, and she gives us only the details that are important to that story and the journey. There’s enough there to hint at the length of time, the physical journey involved, but we don’t have to read through endless tales of rambles through woods.
Original elements to old hat characters
For this kind of fantasy book, it is hardly a surprise to discover there’s a knight and a ‘princeling’/lord. But there is a refreshing surprise nonetheless. The knight, though still clinging on to his knightly moral values, is bitter from being kicked out of his order. And why was kicked out so unceremoniously? For being gay! Yep, that’s right. This beautifully built, morally strong young man is as gay as they come. Even better, those in his battalion (is that the right word for knights? You get the idea…) knew of his proclivities and protected him and his lover. And while highlighting this as an issue, Williams doesn’t gloss over the awful nature of the bigotry (like many others trying to make a point about prejudice might have done), Sebastian’s lover (also kicked out of the order), committed suicide as a result of the shame. That’s right – there’s humour and serious issues in this book.
Another trend that I am well and truly sick of – in all books, not just fantasy – is where the main love interest is painted as some kind of Adonis. As soon as you see descriptions of someone focusing on beautiful eyes, or sculpted jaws, muscular torsos, whatever, you know that there is going to be a love story at some point. Thankfully, Frith, the love interest in question, is scarred. Not only that, he’s also not terribly nice a lot of the time. You might think – well, why the hell should we root for a relationship if he’s not very nice? Because it’s human! It’s real. I am going to stand up for all the other people who are difficult, have bad tempers, and can be a little bit secretive, finding it difficult to trust others – we are people too and deserve love just as much as the next incredibly sexy, stereotypically ‘nice’ person. So there!
Verdict: I really enjoyed this book. It is obviously not going to do much for you if you don’t like fantasy novels, but if you do – and enjoy a little wit – this book is definitely worth a read. And even better, the sequel, The Iron Ghost, published on February 26th this year, so there’s even more Jen Williams to enjoy.