Author: Jen Williams
Series: The Copper Cat #1
Published: July 5 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
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.
But sometimes there is truth in rumour.
Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.
With a creative, diverse, unpredictable cast, using an inventive magic system to battle an angry dragon-god, and also her dragon-hybrid army bent on destruction, The Copper Promise is definitely what you would call a memorable book. Jen Williams' first published her actiontastic foray into fantasy two years ago overseas, but her creations of devil-may-care Wydrin, honorable but surprising Sebastien, and prickly curmudgeon Frith are about to be known here. They're each not exactly what you would call a charming and nice person per se, but they are soundly crafted into three-dimensional, interesting characters operating on an engaging and inventive plot.
The Copper Promise is a fun, actiontastic fantasy read. It makes a good impression and is hopefully a harbinger for the tone and plots of the sequels to come. I love all kinds of subgenres in sff books but Williams' lighter-hearted approach here is refreshing. There's a certain amount of doom, gloom and destruction to be found, no doubt -- there's a dragon flying around, just lighting shit on fire, eating people, generally wreaking mayhem -- but the tone of the novel isn't overwhelmingly grimdark or depressing. It's an entertaining, creative start to a series with a lot of potential. Williams is a clever (often outright funny) writer and her first book is a reflection of that from early on.
A lot of the entertainment value is because of the personalities and varieties of humor that these distinct characters possess. Wydrin, the Copper Cat the entire series is named for, carries this book from her first snark. She's not interested in doing what's right, she's interested in how much she's getting paid. She's mercenary by nature and by vocation, but she's, at the same time, also likeable, smart, and never boring. Her partnership with the more tightly-wound Sebastian makes for good banter and a good foil for each character. They work well as a unit, and compensate for one another with their weakness and strengths.
Their work and personal dynamics are permanently changed when they take a risky job from the series' other main character, the previously-unknown Lord Aaron Frith of the Blackwood. Frith, a black-skinned man in a fantasy!, is out for revenge, knowledge, and answers against the book's secondary antagonists. His inclusion to Wydrin and Seb's group is what kicks off the book's real plot with the primary antagonist. From there, it involves a half-dragon, half-human brood army slowly gaining sentience and independence, hidden deities, dead men walking, and two kinds of inventive magic.
Jen Williams is the kind of an author who doesn't like to do what is expected; she likes to put her own spin on her stories in the genre. Her books are fun and funny, great for old fans or for new readers of the genre. The Copper Promise is the first novel in the beginning to telling a larger story, but still manages to wrap up the plot smartly, and with a real sense of resolution for both characters and readers. There were a few tropes I was iffy about (I liked there was a disabled MC, hated they were healed by magic though that was not without a Williams-spin, I liked the inclusion of a gay character but wanted it to be more overt), but overall, this is an easy book to enjoy and recommend.
I used the UK cover because it's the one I bought, but here is the US with Wydrin and Sebastian: