(2016) Jen Williams, Headline,£14.99, trdpbk, 632pp, ISBN 978-1-472-21115-6
The adventures of the Black Feather Three started in The Copper Promise an almost – almost – fairly standard sword and sorcery novel, and continued in colder climes in the sequel The Iron Ghost, and now, sadly, things are heating up – in more ways than one, and not just in the tropical location - to draw to a conclusion in The Silver Tide. I consider myself very lucky to have come across this trilogy and the work of Jen Williams because, to be honest, it is not normally my cup of tea, but as a judge for the British Fantasy Awards Best Newcomer category for the last couple of years I got to read The Copper Promise as Jen Williams was on the shortlist, and I was hooked by a brilliant opening scene and a mixture of great writing, combined with very untypical characters, namely the aforementioned Black Feather Three in the shape of The Cooper Cat herself, one Wydrin of Crosshaven, the damaged sorcerer Lord Aaron Firth and knight, Sir Sebastian Carverson, all caught up in a gripping, fast-paced, very clever plot. Williams did not win the award (it went to Sarah Lotz for her creepy novel, The Three) but I enjoyed The Copper Promise enough to read The Iron Ghost and now this last book in the trilogy.
Our three heroes are at a bit of a crossroads so it is timely that as sword, dagger and sorcerer for hire they are employed by pirate-queen Devinia the Red, captain of the notorious ship the Poison Chalice. Timely, but perhaps not the greatest business arrangement in the world as Devinia also happens to be Wydrin’s mother and while Devinia is almost happy to see her daughter, she is more interested in Firth’s abilities as a mage which will hopefully get her past the defences that protect the cursed island of Euriale rumoured to be the home of the gods. Anyone with any common sense would think wait a minute: 'cursed island'? Home of the gods? A place that no-one returns from? Is it really a good idea to be going there, even when you have been promised a share of the loot? Pretty soon the pirate ship is under attack and our three heroes are separated and have to fight to survive and get back together again but Euriale is a strange place with a chequered history and home to some very different races. As the blurb says “you can’t teach an old God new tricks” and those gods can be very tricky indeed.
As before, Williams delivers a clever plot with nods a plenty to things like Jason and the Argonauts and Indiana Jones and even Jurassic Park. While I balk at reading a meaty tome which stretches to 632 pages, at least it is split into 96 pacey chapters to ease the pain. Williams is definitely going out on several big bangs with this book. We have plenty of action and thrills and spills and appearances from a variety of monsters, gods and demons and dragons of course. There is even a bit of time-travel thrown into the mix. It is to her credit as a writer that she manages to keep all these balls juggling. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, so it is goodbye to the Black Feather Three, and hello to whatever Williams writes next. I am sure fans of the series will devour The Silver Tide, while first time readers should go back to the start and read The Copper Promise, lucky them.
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