“The Copper Promise” by Jen Williams (Headline)

WilliamsJ-CopperPromiseA fun fantasy adventure

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.

Lots of people have discussed the rise of grimdark, the loss of fun and adventure in fantasy of late. Personally, I’m rather fond of grimdark. I’m also rather fond of more fun-loving, adventure- and quest-focused fantasies of the ‘classic’ mould. The Copper Promise manages to straddle both of these camps rather skillfully. A lot of people are going to like this.

And, indeed, there’s a lot to like: some good protagonists to guide us through the world, plenty of action to be survived and enjoyed (as a spectator), dragons to fight and be killed by, dungeons to explore, treasure to be found, magic to be wielded, and pirates to fend off. The world is well-drawn and well-developed, and feels fully-formed very quickly. Readers will be drawn to the Band of Adventurers-style story that we’re thrown in to pretty much right off the bat. It was great to see the story unfold, and the heroes’ struggle against what they unleash from beneath the Citadel is epic and varied.

And yet. The Copper Promise didn’t excite me as much as I had expected. Yes, it was fun. Yes, I kept reading and Williams can certainly write both more serious and also wittier sections. But. It took me a while to really get hooked into the story. There were moments of exposition that verged on info-dumping (especially near the beginning). While well-written, the characters didn’t seem too inspired at first blush, and seemed to come right out of Fantasy Central Casting: a mischievous, reckless thief; a taciturn, moralistic and conflicted former knight. They were, however, pretty well-written characters, and Williams fleshed them out well over the course of the novel.

I felt that Wydrin’s quips and/or snark near the beginning of the novel sometimes verged too close to Lorelai Gilmore-like frequencies – it was like we were really meant to know that the character was sarcastic and feisty, and maybe it was a bit overdone. True, it fits her cavalier, act-first-think-later attitude to adventuring (and looting), and it did balance out later. But it irked me at the beginning (perhaps a result of my mood at the time I read it, perhaps not). Lord Frith, Wydrin and Sebastian’s benefactor, is a less grimdark version of Abercrombie’s Inquisitor Glokta, only high-born and less misanthropic, but equally driven and focused on his cause. Perhaps that’s a rather lazy comparison (Frith was also crippled by torture), but the connection popped into my head immediately after reading the prologue and then again after we are reunited with him and he hires Wydrin and Sebastian. Speaking of the three of them, they worked pretty well as a group, and I enjoyed reading about their exploits.

The issues I had with the novel were minor, but they were also clear. Along with the aforementioned niggles with regards to the characters, there were also occasional pacing issues – when the narrative felt a little uneven. And at other times, the characters’ speech patterns shifted from more ‘natural’ to forced or affected, which felt a little jarring as they were predominantly written in a very natural, engaging way – there were even a few moments of what felt like Renaissance Fair-esque weirdness near the beginning. I also think it could have done with being just a bit shorter – tightening up may have helped with the pacing issues.

A lot of people will like this novel. For me, this is a good novel, and one that looks back at what used to make fantasy so much fun and addictive and contemporizes it rather well. The sense of adventure, the quirky characters… a big, fuck-off dragon. That kind of thing. But, after finishing, I was not left with the sense that this had been a spectacular read. It will certainly be interesting to see what the author comes up with next. Williams can definitely write, and has obvious talent and love for the genre (there are so many lovingly adopted tropes and genre conventions that are gleefully included and tweaked).*

A cautious recommendation, therefore. If you are looking for a fantasy novel that has a classic sense of fun coupled with a more contemporary style, then The Copper Promise should suit your needs. I look forward to reading Williams’s second novel.


The Copper Promise was received from both Headline and also as part of the Hodderscape Review Project.

* I am, of course, purely speculating about any levels of authorial glee.



Debut author Christian Schoon was born in the American Midwest, and started his writing career in earnest as an in-house writer at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California. (Which is rather cool…) After moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to work as a freelance and also now helps re-hab wildlife and foster abused/neglected horses. An interesting fellow, I thought it would be a great idea to interview him. Apparently, along with writing, he was once shot by a hometown cop…

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Christian Schoon?

Just another guy with a book… Grew up in the American Midwest, worked my way through college playing in rock bands, doing odd jobs; got a degree in Journalism, moved to LA, hired on as a copywriter at Disney, then freelanced, wrote some TV scripts for teen and kids’ sci-fi and fantasy shows; moved back to Midwest, bought an old farmstead, got involved with several animal welfare groups; wrote a sci fi series, found a great agent, he sold the series to a fabulous publisher. And voila.


I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your debut novel, Zenn Scarlett, was recently published by Strange Chemistry. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The novel chronicles an eventful, well, very eventful, interlude in the life of a young girl in her novice year of training to be an exoveterinarian. Zenn is specializing the care and treatment of alien animals at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic and school on a colonized Mars that’s been cut-off from contact with Earth. Her alien patients are often huge, occasionally deadly and always fascinating. She’s love her courses, but she’s got a few problems. An absent father not communicating, a local towner boy showing an unusual and distracting interest in her just as end of term tests begin, a sudden surge of incidents at the cloister where animals escape their enclosures or exhibit uncharacteristically violent behavior and, oddest and most disturbing: she feels that she’s started… sharing the thoughts of some of her alien patients.

This is the first novel in a series. The sequel is well underway and will be published early next year.


What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

The Zenn Scarlett series grew out of my earlier-mentioned work with several animal welfare groups and the awesome veterinarians I met; some of these vets have developed unique skill sets in dealing with large, exotic and sometimes dangerous animals. This, along with my deep geek-love for all things science fictional, made Zenn’s adventures a logical progression for me once I started looking for a fresh creative challenge.

Lampman-RustysSpaceShipHow were you introduced to genre fiction?

Well, there was Rusty’s Space Ship back in grade school, followed up quickly by the work of Golden Age sci-fi masters like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Asimov, Heinlein and that school of writers.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

So far (knock on synthwood) my experience with the world of books and publishing has been solidly fab. My agent is a genre-savvy guy who immediately “got” Zenn and saw the book’s potential. My editor at Strange Chemistry is equally well-versed and has provided valuable feedback and made sure Zenn Scarlett was ready for release into the wild. As for work habits, I try to get as much of my writing as possible done in the morning. Afternoons are then used for any research and for wasting large chunks of time surfing favorite author and book sites.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

Writing appealed to me from a fairly early age since I could go off on my own and do the work, get feedback, do whatever polishing was needed and have the project completed. I’m not really a team-player sort. I like my space. My first challenging writing work was done as an in-house copy and scriptwriter in the home video division of the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, and yes I do look back on those years with great fondness. Even though this did demand that I buck up and “play for the team,” my colleagues there were a truly wonderful bunch of creative and warm individuals and they made my time at Disney a pleasure. But I never really encountered an office-type setting similar to this again, and quickly decided work-from-home freelancing was the thing for me.


What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

With all the publishing options available today there’s more great genre writing materializing before our eyes almost every day. The problem, of course, is winnowing through the surging tsunami of chaff to find the good stuff. And blogs like this one are often one of the most effective screening systems readers can turn to in order to track down their next read.

With any luck, my own writing will find its way to exactly this kind of platform and rise into the field of vision of those hungry-for-better readers and trigger some friendly word-of-mouth attention.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

My main effort just now is the sequel to Zenn Scarlett. I’m also mulling a streampunkish sort of TV series that I will hopeful be able to turn my attention to once Zenn’s follow-on adventure is nailed down.

Fleming-BritainAfterRomeWhat are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I’m reading several great new Strange Chemistry titles just now: a riveting sci-fi thriller, Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa and an eerie interpretation of a classic SF tale, Tainted by A.E. Rought. In non-fiction, I’m just about finished with Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise 400–1070. This is a great glimpse into the real-world dystopia that was Britain in the wake of Rome’s collapse. It’s also very Game of Throne-ish, of course.

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

I was once shot at by the police in my tiny Minnesota home town. Details on request…

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

No surprise here: the publication of Zenn Scarlett: May 7 in the US/Canada, May 2 in the UK. After that, I’ll start looking forward to the release of the sequel. Yeah, predictable.


For more about Zenn Scarlett, it’s sequel and Christian himself, be sure to check out Goodreads, his Author Blog, his Twitter, and also his Strange Chemistry Author Page.