The Copper Promise is the first novel in The Copper Cat trilogy by British author Jen Williams. Originally published as four short stories, it manages to not feel particularly disjointed or broken up, and it seems pretty clear that the original form was intended to be put together this way. The characters were interesting, the magic system was also pretty neat, though the plot was a lot bit tropey. I think my biggest issue with the whole thing was that the character of Wydrin (The eponymous Copper Cat) pretty much never actually felt like the main character at all. Making this more of an ensemble cast didn’t especially hurt what was a fairly enjoyable foray into heroic fantasy.
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.
So we start off with a couple little one-off vignettes that set some of the stage for the plot. They were both pretty interesting and definitely engaged me, though they did create a little bait-and-switch that this was going to be a low-to-the-ground sort of sword & sorcery affair that swiftly became more heroic/epic as it progressed. I don’t necessarily hate the direction that it went, but the switch was a little bit jarring. I guess that was the one really obvious view of the gaps between the short stories, each one felt it had the ability to start fresh and instead created a bump in the road. Not that it made the trip bad. From there we get into big scary epic world-ending threats and a non-trivial amount of scrambling around trying to assemble the magic macguffin that would save the day. Just another day for Heroic Fantasy.
One of the highlights for this story for me was the magic system. Actual mage-power magic was presumed lost forever when basically all the mages together were needed to trap and contain all of the powerful old gods. Once it comes back to us through one of our heroes, we get to see a little about its inner workings. It’s a magic based in words. Knowing the proper word for a thing, and having that word physically about your person gives you the ability to channel magic through it for an effect. So the more words you know, the more powerful you become and the more kinds of thing you can do. We don’t, sadly, get to see too much of it in action, but what we do see is pretty fantastic. Definitely a high point, and I hope it continues to appear in the later books of the series.
I suppose the biggest lowlight of the story for me was the character for whom the series is named, Wydrin, the Copper Cat. She was a great character, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed her immensely. She gave no shits, and had some fantastic dialogue. She’s a fantastic choice for basing a series around. Maybe this gets better in later books, but in this one though, as interesting a character as she was, she spent basically the whole thing following dudes around and doing what dudes want. She ends up attached to Lord Frith’s story pretty much off the bat, and quickly ends up being fascinated by him and attracted to him despite the fact that he pretty much treats her and her buddy Seb like the hired help (Protip: They were the hired help). Then when part of the story progresses and she’s left basically on her own, her first step is to go see her brother and see what he’s involved in. There’s really not a point where she’s the primary focus of the story and not one of the men around her. Was more than a little disappointing.
That said, this was only a problem in comparison to my expectations that she’d be the central focus of the story. She was a very well-created character, with lots of depth and hopefully she is more the major protagonist in future books. I quite enjoyed The Copper Promise, at this point a little over halfway through the year, it’s inside my top 10. If you enjoy the whole ‘adventuring party deals with the big bad’ pastiche, this is a fantastic example of it. There were even some surprisingly philosophical parts involving some characters I won’t mention for fear of spoilers. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable read, I’ll definitely be looking up the later books, and hope to see more from Jen Williams.
Dan received a Review Copy of this book from Angry Robot via NetGalley
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