The Silver Tide: Jen Williams

★★★★

The Copper Cat Trilogy: Book III

Now back in London after some adventures with my parents, I’m trying to catch up on a backlog of posts about books, plays and operas, so do bear with me. First of all, it’s time to say goodbye to the dauntless heroes of the Black Feather Three, because this is the last book in Jen Williams’s fantasy series. As you might expect, Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian find themselves up against their greatest challenge yet and, in the course of a book filled with pirates, mages, haunted forests, gods, the fabric of time and, of course, almost certain death, there’s hardly time to draw breath. I’ve certainly enjoyed the series: all the way through, Williams has managed to combine the key components of sword-and-sorcery with a knowing humour that keeps it all very lively and modern. And I’ve realised that I’m really going to miss the three main characters. Especially Wydrin.

As this book opens, we finally get to meet more of Wydrin’s family: in this case, her mum, the fearsome pirate Devinia the Red, who is just as awesome as you’d expect of our scruffy redhead’s mother. Devinia has conceived a plan: to follow a secret waterway deep into the heart of the island of Euriale, where she believes great treasure will be hidden. Needless to say, apart from the pirate town of Two Birds on its coast, the whole of said island is considered to be cursed, haunted and otherwise firmly out of bounds to any sensible person. But this is the Threefellows family we’re talking about. And Devinia has decided that her mission will be much more successful if she has someone on board who can cope with any unexpected attacks of a supernatural nature. In fact, she has three such someones in mind. And so, much against their better judgement, Wydrin, Frith and (a rather morose) Sebastian find themselves jammed onto a pirate ship, heading deeper into a jungle-ridden island that just screams ‘bad magic’.

Of course things don’t go to plan. They never do when these three are around and, before long, our three heroes are scattered across the island of Euriale. Sebastian, who is still nursing his guilt over Prince Dallan (from the last book) finds himself curiously drawn deeper into the jungle, tempted onwards by a tug upon his dragon-sense and by the ethereal apparitions of a young man, which seem to be summoning him. (Would you be tempted to follow a ghost in such circumstances? Me neither; but then I suppose neither of us are massive warriors with a certain gift for battle and the broadsword.) Meanwhile, Wydrin finds herself taken captive by the inhabitants of the jungle: a motley band of outcasts with an excessive love of face paint, a worrying tendency towards cannibalism and a very scary plan to reintroduce the old gods into the world. Oh, and then there’s the business of the giant sentient spider they keep imprisoned under their camp. And Frith once again finds himself trying to track Wydrin down, although he will find that Euriale’s magic has a beneficent effect upon his own. Before they reach the end of their journey, his powers will have been tested to the max – as, indeed, will the courage of all of the Black Feather Three, as they come up against the might of ancient ages.

Williams really did throw everything at this one – it’s a great doorstop of a book, but it’s so lovingly written that you find yourself suspending disbelief and sinking straight into it. An enormous talking spider with confidence issues? Yep, I’ll accept that. Time travel which conveniently deposits three different people in the same place and time? Maybe it’s a fixed wormhole; I won’t think too hard about it. What about all the acts our heroes undertake in the past? Don’t they change the future at all? Or does the present / future exist as it does because our heroes were always going to go back? I’m not going to think too deeply about this, because it ties my brain in a knot. And… good God, was that a dinosaur?! (Williams might be being all coy with her ‘dragon-kin’ and ‘lizard creatures’, but I know a velociraptor-shaped dinosaur when I see one.) Yes, there’s more to the jungles of Euriale than ancient powers, erudite arachnids, feral outlaws and displaced divinities. Like the creative powers of Euriale, Williams’s imagination has furnished this last book with an almost dizzying fecundity and it’s fun: great fun.

All the way through the series, the characterisation of our three protagonists has been rock-solid. Wydrin is my favourite, of course, as a no-nonsense, scrappy little hellion who cheerfully throws herself into mortal peril without a blink while Frith and Sebastian worry about her; but the two guys have grown on me too. Naturally, I always love a tortured soul and so Sebastian has been very dear to my heart from the beginning; it took me a while longer to warm to Frith, but it seems positively rude not to like someone who’s gone through hell and back so many times for his friends. And this book reintroduces us to some old ‘friends’, as well as introducing some memorable new characters: Oster might be the most glamorous, but of the newcomers I think Feveroot might be the most fun to have around. My one regret was that we didn’t get to see anything more of Crowleo, who was mentioned so much in the last book that I felt sure he had some kind of destiny to fulfil. Or perhaps ‘destiny’ is the wrong word. As Wydrin points out, ‘Destiny is just a fancy word for people who want their own way all the time‘.

So this has been a great adventure. Luckily, Jen Williams is partway through a new series, The Winnowing Flame, and I have the first book – The Ninth Rain – ready to read; but I’ll give myself a short break before starting on that, so I can say goodbye to Wydrin et al properly. All in all, this series is rollicking summer reading, full of skirmishes and snappy dialogue; though I strongly advise you to save it up for when you have a block of time – there’s so much going on it’s not all that easy to dip in and out, and it’s much more fun to dive in and lose yourself.

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