The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams (book review).

This is the sequel to ‘The Copper Promise’, which was released in 2014 to great acclaim. ‘The Iron Ghost’ is book two in the trilogy, so I was anticipating a little bit of middle book syndrome but luckily I was mistaken in this.


Since their last adventure of accidentally releasing and then defeating the dragon god Y’Ruen the Blackfeather Three aka Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith have found that their services are in high demand. This means they can have their pick of adventuring and mercenary jobs. They decide to pick a job which on the surface sounds quite easy. They need to travel to Skaldshollow, a desolate and mountainous town that specialises in making stone creatures that then do their creators bidding. Unfortunately for the people of Skaldshollow (the Skald), they have had their Heartstone stolen by their neighbours, the Narhl, which means that they can no longer animate their stone animals. This is the object that the Blackfeather Three have been hired to retrieve. This sounds nice and easy, right? Well obviously it isn’t or the book would be considerably smaller and a lot less dark.

Part of the issue is that, for the Skald, the Heartstone is their means to a stone workforce and army. For the Narhl, it is a desecration of the mountain gods to use the Heartstone as it is the soul of the mountains. This puts the Blackfeather Three in a morally uncomfortable spot. Also added to the mix is an evil mage called Joah Demonsworn who happens to be brought back to life by a particularly nasty demon called Bezcavar, using a hideously bloodthirsty method, seriously it left me feeling a little sick. Instead of the easy job they thought, we find Frith undergoing some serious torture at the hands of Joah, Wydrin becoming linked to a stone animal and Sebastian falls in love with the Narhl prince. Amongst all this, there are also some flashbacks to Sebastian and how he saved the Dragon women from the previous book.

Apologies for fangirling but I really do love this series of books. Williams writes such amazing characters that you even start to feel sorry for people like Joah Demonsworn, who is a nasty piece of work who thinks nothing of killing thousands of people just to gain more magical power. Each of the characters is distinct and believable, they are probably traditional tropes of the fantasy genre but, at the same time, they feel like real people who you might bump into in the street. I’m not sure how she writes such understandable characters, maybe it’s due to the fact that often we get to see from different characters viewpoints so we can see why they do what they do. The characters also never seem to make a ridiculous choice simply to get them into a position that Williams wants them in later in the book. Williams seems able to show all the people in the book from both their worst and best light so you end up with a book in which there are no true ‘baddies’ as everyone has understandable reasons for their behaviour. This is one of the many strengths of Williams’ writing.

Often, if you get a book with excellent characters, you would probably expect to lose something with regards the plot and storyline. This isn’t true here. The storyline is completely captivating, even though at times you’re reading at least three different stories, it doesn’t get complicated or confusing. Also key to Williams’ writing is that the story doesn’t have any filler, absolutely everything is interesting and central to the plot. I initially wondered as to why we were getting flashbacks to Sebastian and the Dragon Women, but they added a lot of depth to the story and I actually began to look forward to them happening. I really do not know how Williams manages to structure her books so well but I wish some other authors would learn her skill. Williams is also able to create a book in which there are elements of great humour, mostly provided by Wydrin and her interesting way of looking at the world, along with moments of horror. The pacing in this book is excellent in that you don’t even really feel it you are just pulled along by the story like a cartoon character following the smell of delicious food.

As I said before, this book is the middle of a trilogy but it does not suffer from middle book syndrome. The story is interesting in itself without it just being a bridge between books one and three. This makes me so happy as I was truly worried that I wouldn’t like this book as much as ‘The Copper Promise’, luckily Jen Williams is an excellent writer and I needn’t have worried. Williams manages to write fantasy that contains so much more than just an adventure, without it feeling like it’s trying too hard. I know that this may sound ridiculous but I believe that Jen Williams is one of the best fantasy writers and I hope she writes many more books for me to enjoy. As with Williams’ previous book, this one also ends neatly, with no annoying cliff-hanger.

Sarah Bruch

March 2015

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(pub: Headline. 538 page paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47221-113-2)

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