The Iron Ghost
by Jen Williams
Rating: 4 Stars
‘Beware the dawning of a new mage…
Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.
When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking… ‘
Having previously read and really enjoyed the first instalment in the series The Copper Promise – reviewed here – I was looking forward to this one.
There were clearly a lot of plot strands left hanging at the end of The Copper Promise and some of them are explored here with others left for the final instalment – The Silver Tide. If it’s half as good as the previous books we’re in for a real treat. Anyway, back to the second instalment….
We start the story after a time skip from the end of the first book. Over a series of jobs The Black Feather Three have developed something of a reputation as swords for hire who are good at unusual situations. But all is not well amongst the group. Sebastian is struggling with the consequences of his actions at the end of the first book, Frith is torn between his duties as a Lord and his place in The Three and Wydrin is still very much Wydrin but now with a bit more to lose.
The action is spread across two timelines. In the present the gang are on a new job – quite possibly their final one as a trio – and this time they’re heading to a completely foreign part of the world. In the past we learn a little bit more about the time that we’ve skipped and finally learn the fate of Sebastian’s ‘daughters’ as they seek sanctuary in the mountains.
I’m still unsure about how I feel about this split timeline. I may be in the minority with this, but I loved the episodic feel of the first book. I felt like I was watching a really good TV series, but with longer episodes and no adverts – I was surprised to find that I enjoyed that! I know that this format was largely the result of Copper being initially written as a series of novellas. but it worked for me and I missed that this time round. Williams still writes in a similar way – in a series on interlocking incidents leading to a big battle at the end. But in this format I found it harder to connect with. The time frame is considerably compressed and you really have to suspend your disbelief, because if all of that happened in such a short space of time the trio would definitely be dead.
I was also little unsure how Williams was going to top the villains of the last story – I mean, world devouring Dragon God anyone? But she had a good go at it, coming at it from a very new angle whilst sticking to some of the previous themes and by and large it works. I suppose I did feel like this villain was a bit over the top in places and I was initially bewildered that he didn’t just kill them all in the first few pages after his arrival. But Williams won me over, he had his reasons and I began to believe them as the novel progressed. He’s a very different sort of evil, there’s more humanity in him and he has a past that was intriguing to watch unfold.
Aside from these quibbles, I did still really enjoy it. I was intrigued by the world building and I got quite invested in the fates of the side characters. There’s a lot to like here – the mountain’s heart, the mage’s version of Howl’s moving castle, the new peoples we meet along the way.
I was also glad that we got to see more of the ‘daughters’. They’re becoming much more distinct characters and their path to becoming more human without losing who they are is very interesting to follow.
We get to see other elements of the first book too – but I’m not going to go into them here because of spoilers. Needless to say I was glad they cropped up; Williams’ handles them very deftly and weaves them into the plot of this book well. Despite the completely different setting this book does deal with the aftermath of nearly ending the world in some very clever ways….
In the end, form quibbles aside, I’m definitely going to pick up the next book – hopefully soon – where I’m hoping to see a little more humour and to tie up some more loose ends!