It seems to be increasingly common online for some authors to give away free stories to entice people to buy and read their full novels. For Jen Williams and in my case, this strategy has paid off.
I’d heard good things about this author from a few people, enough that I was willing to shell out £0.00 for her story “Sorrow’s Isle”. This short but complete piece provides an introduction to the characters of Wydrin, “the Copper Cat”, and her companion Sebastian. What was rather surprising was that the female Wydrin is the brash, arrogant leader of the pair, while male Sebastian represents the calmer, quietly thoughtful aspect of the two of them. I read it and was instantly hooked.
So, with my appetite whetted, I purchased “The Copper Promise”. In short, it was a fantastic, exhilarating read. Williams’ characters are diverse, conflicting and complementary, often all in the same chapter. The book follows Wydrin and Sebastian whom we’ve already met, but also throws the displaced Lord Frith into the mix as well. Wydrin and Sebastian are hired by Frith to help him seek a weapon that will enable him to retake his stolen homestead. However, Frith’s quest accidentally sets free an ancient dragon-god who takes to the skies and wreaks destruction upon the realm.
For me, as with many others I suspect, Wydrin is the star of the show. She’s like a female Han Solo – fearless, reckless and with a host of witty one-liners at her disposal. In “Sorrow’s Isle”, there was a hint that Wydrin may possibly have a goddess’ favour – or certainly her interest at least, which we know may not always amount to favourable treatment. This wasn’t really developed much as a theme in “The Copper Promise”, so I’m hoping that this might be a plotline for later books. I think Wydrin versus a goddess could be a real corker of a book.
I asked Jen Williams herself whose story she thought dominated “The Copper Promise” and she replied “each of their stories are equally important”, adding that “Wydrin is the lynchpin of the group, driving the rest of them forward”. Certainly that’s the way that the book comes across, and that has both positives and drawbacks.
On the positive side, none of the characters are sidelined, and each of them gets to have their share of the action. However, I did find that with no strong protagonist, the pacing floundered a little at times. The scenes with the dragon were brilliant, but it almost represented too big a threat. It was definitely the personal conflicts and obstacles that really kept me reading. Sometimes giving the story over to one protagonist can really help character development. For example, Frith starts out really quite unlikeable. He gains power but doesn’t take much responsibility with it and so ends the novel almost as stubborn and unlikeable as he began it. It is his personal quest that is played out from beginning to end, but somehow he doesn’t seem sufficiently changed by it. In contrast, Sebastian goes through some immense changes both to his conscience and his circumstances, and I was desperate to read more about him. But by splitting the book three ways, it meant I felt he didn’t get the focus his story deserved. But that just made me want to read the next one when I got to the end of this one! Thankfully, there are another two books following this one, and I have full confidence that any character whose full story wasn’t told in “The Copper Promise” will be given due attention in the sequels.
As well as having complex characters, Williams also builds a comprehensive fantasy world. It is marvellously expansive, has elegant rituals and an intriguing history. Sometimes too much knowledge about a world can kill a book’s pace, but Williams interweaves it seamlessly with the plot. The quest of the protagonists takes them from one culture to another, each of which is distinct and fascinating.
“The Copper Promise” is a remarkable debut from a fantasy writer who has proven herself to be one to watch. Her characters include types under-represented within this genre – a strong yet feminine woman as well as a homosexual character (no spoilers as to who it is!). Such personal traits are not defining or all-encompassing for the characters in question, but merely aspects them which make them that much more diverse and interesting.