Mercenaries hired for a dangerous quest by a mysterious stranger? Check. Peril, monsters, magic and epic journeys? Check. The Copper Promise has all the hallmarks of a generic swords ‘n sorcery tale, but Jen Williams lifts it above mediocrity through some likeable characters, a sufficiently detailed plot and, crucially, a sense of fun. Too often this genre gets bogged down in tortured heroes and their inner anguish, but here Williams leavens the death and destruction with bickering camaraderie and a breezy pace that doesn’t give us time to dwell on the darkness.
There’s certainly plenty of darkness to be had – the story beings with our pair of sell-swords and their (literally) tortured patron venturing into the dark beneath a haunted citadel in search of treasure and glory, a quest which accidentally unleashes a monster upon the land. As they venture out across the world it becomes clear that their fates are tied to this monster, and they find themselves in all sorts of dangerous situations and confronted with death everywhere they turn. Despite the danger, what the book lacks is a genuine threat, a sense that there’s a chance the characters may not survive until the end. We see plenty of bloodshed but never really fear for the lives of the protagonists.
Despite that, what we do get is a rollicking adventure that takes in monsters, gods, pirates, a clever system of magic and some characters that go nicely against the fantasy norm. The world we’re in is nicely drawn and feels lived-in and solid despite the occasional dubious place name. There’s action galore, and if the prose turns a little purple at times and the story struggles to know quite who its main character is, it’s buoyed up by a well thought-out plot and a genuine sense of potential with the characters and the setting overall. There is certainly nothing revolutionary here, but if you’re looking for some breezy fantasy fun that could well grow into an entertaining little series, this should do the trick.