Review: A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Monday, June 1, 2015
Title: A Crown for Cold Silver
Author: Alex Marshall
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 656
Published: April 14, 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history.

Now the peace she carved for herself has been shattered by the unprovoked slaughter of her village. Seeking bloody vengeance, Zosia heads for battle once more, but to find justice she must confront grudge-bearing enemies, once-loyal allies, and an unknown army that marches under a familiar banner.

A Crown for Cold Silver is an outstanding epic fantasy debut featuring an unforgettable warrior.

I love epic fantasy that subverts poetic justice and similar tropes, a'la George Martin. I also love Joe Abercrombie, Marshall's obvious inspiration's, blending of fantasy and realism in war. So it's a shame that this book, with such a great, nontraditional main character, ended with such a whimper.

There's subverting tropes, and then there's refusing any pay off. If a character spends more than a year searching for their son and lives through an unwinnable battle, I can see the subversion in having him die from friendly fire before he finds his family. It doesn't make me happy as a reader, but I understand where the author is coming from. I can't see five similar things happening at the same battle. War is hell, yes, and it doesn't have a happy ending, but at some point it's just misery for the sake of misery.

Which, again, is a real shame, as the characters are top notch. There isn't a government force not led by a woman, including a ruthlessly murderous teenage pontiff. This is a book starring a 50+ year old, bisexual, woman. Older. Bisexual. Woman. I'm flailing. In Zosia's youth, she led an army to overthrow the king, along with her generals, the Five Villains. The villains are now two decades older and scattered across the land. Some have turned to drugs, peddling and using. Some are married with children., (including a gay couple whose kids call them First Father and Second Father ♥‿♥.) One is a completely batcrap crazy sorcerer who might be trying to end the world. The use. Zosia sets out to bring the Villains back together after she’s betrayed, but old friends and new may have different motivations.

There are a lot of narrators. Too many, frankly. Not only do Zosia and several of her generals get chapters, so does a barbarian from the Frozen Savannahs, far from the oncoming war; a war nun trapped between her vows to the Black Pope and an oath to the Crimson Queen; and the villain. The book is almost 700 pages; 7 POVs feels like overkill.

But despite all of that, I really like A Crown for Cold Silver. From the opening line, “It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.” to a religion that states “Everything happened. Not for reason, mind, … but everything happened”, the author is adept at setting the tone. There’s enough lightness to balance out the general despair, (until the end.) I laughed myself sick when the actual general advised her wanna-be apprentice to ditch the chainmail bikini for the sake of her pubes. The world building is consistent and if a few countries resemble real world ones a bit too much, it’s a relatively small flaw. Not much of the actual magic system was revealed, but instead of feeling like I didn’t know where the author was going, I felt like they were waiting to play their hand.

I think the cliffhanger end, the lack of magical reveal, and my other issues would be easier to swallow if I could find any information confirming a sequel being picked up. I think a series has promise, but with a penchant for spoiling payoffs, this may be one you wait for the author to finish writing all books before starting.

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