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A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall
Book Name: A Crown For Cold Silver
Author: Alex Marshall
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 14, 2015

A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER hits a lot of notes that fans of epic fantasy will recognize and appreciate: generals fighting one last war using a mercenary army; a colorful band of killers who hail from the far corners of the world, each bringing a different specialty to the party; wizards; priests; royalty; foppish nobles; and more. But there’s also enough here to distinguish it from a typical doorstop epic fantasy. Tropes are subverted and inverted (it’s almost a requirement these days, isn’t it?), a wicked sense of humor, and some of the deepest and most detailed world building I’ve seen in a while. Once the story gets going, it’s a surprising and fun read.

A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER is the tale of Zosia, a general who once conquered a continent and took the crown by force with the help of her five captains, the Villains. But this isn’t that story. In fact, that story is decades old and has faded and been exaggerated into song, legend, and tall tale. Now Zosia is living in peace and secret in the mountains with her husband, her dog, and her arthritis. It’s only when her village is massacred that she returns to the world, ready to kill everyone who stands in her way. She reunites with her captains, who have all gone their own way and suffered in their own way. And she must also deal with a younger generation: brought up on tales of her glory, some worship her while others are looking to take her down.

But A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER also tells the story of the Villains and that next generation of generals and villains. Some of the original Villains have used their fame and fortune to hide in plain sight. Others have never shed their mercenary lifestyle and still sell their services to small time revolutionaries. And still another has descended into drug addiction, depression, and debasing himself by working security for nobles who have more money than sense. Meanwhile that next generation—the typical heroes of an epic fantasy—are, to some extent, relegated to secondary characters, as their elders heavily influence their actions. But they do offer a nice mirror for Zosia and her Villains to measure themselves against their pasts.

Yes, this is a tale of revenge, and yes this is a tale of how far myth is from reality. But most of all, it’s a tale of mistakes, and how old or new, big or small, they can have long lasting and sometimes severe consequences. Call it a grimdark butterfly effect.

And because of that grimdark style, as well as the humor and over the top characters, comparisons will be made to Joe Abercrombie. But I think Kameron Hurley’s THE MIRROR EMPIRE might be more fitting, not only because of the trope bending, but also because of the depth of worldbuilding. Marshall (a pen name for an already established author who is new to the epic fantasy genre but has somehow avoided having his (or her) identity revealed) shrugs off typical gender and sexuality roles, but not in a preachy fashion. Instead, it’s just an unremarkable part of the world. And it’s not the tale of a farm boy who is a prophesied king. Instead this book laughs at that setup, as well as some of fantasy’s more embarrassing elements. And it is a funny book, snarky and witty and dark, right from the first line.

And like Hurley, Marshall has crafted a diverse, richly detailed world. Marshall brings in elements of Central Europe, India, Korea, Scandinavia, and Africa. There are religions old and new battling for converts. Gods and demons take part in the world of humanity. Religious and political conspiracies abound. But Marshall doesn’t include details simply for the sake of complexity. Compared to most books, these are more nuanced and better developed cultures, whose conflicting natures make for an added degree of complexity and subtlety that I really enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I think Marshall might have crammed too much into this novel. I think that the biggest fault was an excess of point of view characters: there are simply a lot of threads to this story. Because the beginning of the book consists of a series of introductions and detailed descriptions, those opening chapters risk becoming a series of false starts that cause the novel to stall out. I’ve seen many reviews online where readers gave up, and I admit, this book took me longer than most to read. Even worse, the pacing was an issue throughout the book. However, when those threads do come together, the story really does sparkle.

If you have the patience to get over the pacing and the initial delay caused by getting all the pieces on the board, the midgame and endgame are a lot of fun. And hopefully, having laid all this groundwork, the sequels (this is book one of a trilogy) can avoid repeating those issues and instead hit the ground running. And so long as Marshall continues to use fascinating, fully-realized characters to explore a complex, dark, and layered world, I’ll keep coming back.


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