The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

marklpotter's review against another edition

Go to review page


I enjoyed The Copper Promise a lot but it wasn't a light read. The Iron Ghost took me even longer and I couldn't figure out why until close to the end. It's children, there are too many children hurt or injured for the sake of the plot. I understand that war kills off families and all of that but this seemed to be just for the sake of making the reader truly hate Bezcavar, who was infinitely hate-able to begin with. This is a dark series and that usually appeals to me, I've been singing Abercrombie's praises for years, but I think that the lengths Williams goes to in this book, to make the reader react in the desired manner, moves from necessary to the plot in to shock jock territory.

That said, I did keep picking the book back up and I kept reading it and in my opinion that shows that the story itself is well written, the plot development well paced, and the main characters relate-able. The writing itself suffers a little in that the flashback scenes aren't well defined and the perspective shifts can be a little jarring but overall that didn't take away from a well executed story but it did move my rating from four stars to three.

With Frith, Williams did seem to take the easy way out. What I mean is that it seems that a mistake was made by making him too powerful to continue as a character and the method she uses to deal with that seems contrived and seems like a redux of the way it was dealt with when it looked like Sebastian was going to have the same problem in The Copper Promise.

Overall this is a solid three and I will read whatever comes next from Jen Williams but I'll go in knowing that she writes dark and sometimes goes over the top to prove how evil someone can be. I don't mind the tropes she employs, everything is a trope these days, and her actual writing is pretty good. I think that she will develop more and I expect that things like perspective shifts will become more smooth as she continues to develop her writing style.

fastasashark's review against another edition

Go to review page


3.75/5 stars Most of the book was solidly 4 stars or possibly more. The worldbuilding was quite awesome and I loved the northern wastelands of the Nahrl and Skald, with the awesomeness of the arachnos and other snow/ice creatures, the mountain spirit etc And in the end thats why I rated this 3.75 instead of higher. I love Wydrin and Sebastian's adventures, their forays into different areas of the Northlands the cool and sometimes terrifying creatures they encountered...and I basically just wanted the whole book to be that. But I really dislike Frith's character and find him boring and obnoxious (him and Wydrin together just seems forced, too) and by the end the whole thing with him and Joah got to be a bit tedious for me. Give me more Wydrin, Sebastian, interesting creatures and riveting adventures across strange landscapes, mountain spirits and stories of the brood sisters...and less angsty, "brooding" boring dudes like Frith and Joah. Also I found the way travel and time worked seemed to get jumbled at the end. In the beginning it seems that Skaldshollow is far from everything and the Nahrl city over treacherous mountains that can be difficult to cross. But as the end drew nearer it seems moving around the Northlands and across the world generally happens at the drop of a hat even without Frith's teleporting. So yeah, most of this book truly was awesome stuff, but around the final quarter of the book it kind of lost me a bit due to the abovementionrd factors.

lian_tanner's review against another edition

Go to review page


I loved The Copper Promise, but this second one in the series is even better. I think it's something to do with the solidity of the characters, and the fact that they step just far enough outside the usual tropes to be both engaging and challenging. The story is gripping, the world is as solidly imagined as the characters, the ending is deeply satisfying, and I am now a total fan of Jen Williams.

leontiy's review against another edition

Go to review page


The absolute best thing about Jen Williams – aside from being hilarious, entirely aware of the genre she writes in (allowing her to make and break rules however she pleases), and one of the best new writers of SFF at the moment – is the fact that her books are classics. Not, “they’ll one day be classics”, but rather, they already are. The way she subverts the expected tropes and themes of SFF, introducing new elements alongside and welcoming tried and tested (and fun!) old ones, is nothing short of sheer poetry.

Never mind the fact that somehow she manages to discuss several relevant issues through her work, without ever becoming lecturing or trite. I’m talking about gender stereotypes and race and sexuality: all the good stuff that I’d honestly thought all the proper and serious writers had decided they were too aloof for and left those topics to the up and coming YA SFF, for whom these topics are their literary bread and butter.

I’ve been growing increasingly more disappointed and distant from regular fantasy in the last year or so. But never far away from Williams.

The Copper Promise was sensational and I loved every second. So when I got my hands on a galley of The Iron Ghost, I was instantly transformed into a garbling mess with excitement. That excitement never really left, because even after turning that final page, the book didn’t leave me.

The Copper Promise ended in a most marvelous fashion, reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, where the summer has been whiled away rolling dice and saving the world; the campaign is over, but already the seeds are planted for the next.

Naturally, The Iron Ghost begins in a very casual fashion, almost episodic in how we find ourselves in the company of the now Blackfeather Three of Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian. This feeling of a new and fresh adventure is welcome in a trilogy, definitely lacking a sagging middle that can sometimes pull down a second book. There is enough grounding reference to the first book so that more forgetful readers will feel comfortable being thrown headlong into a new adventure with the trio, but not so much that The Iron Ghost wastes time reiterating what the majority of readers already know. It’s a small peeve when writers compensate for readers by explaining what happened only one book before. It clogs the flow of the writing and slows the whole system down.

We find ourselves witness to several new developments in the lives of the Blackfeather Three, including the awkwardly budding romance between Wydrin and Frith, the mysterious force driving the hand of a young assassin – whose orders are ultimately bound to the same thread of fate as theirs – and the movements of Sebastian’s brood army as they try to adjust to life after Y’ruen.

Furthermore, as the Blackfeather Three venture to faraway shores on their latest paying job, new obstacles present themselves along with new foes and allies. Only sometimes, it might be hard to tell friend from enemy, and when things come down to the wire, choices are hard and sacrifices might need to be made. Needless to say, when she accepts the job for them, little does Wydrin expect that she will be changed forever, in ways she can hardly understand. Their presence in the cold mountain passes, close to the boarders of a cold-blooded mountain people, could signal doom and destruction for the rest of the world.

Because something has been sleeping for a long time, something that is not quite as dead as the world thought. And now this power has found a way to rise again, to return to the world where old plans and long-dead machinations will be awoken, given life anew. And this time, Frith’s new magic, Wydrin’s blind, dumb luck, and even Sebastian’s blood sisters might not be enough to quell it. Magic is stirring, and with it, the threat of a new power, one bent on domination and destruction. Join the brilliant Blackfeather Three in a new land and a new heap of trouble. Between golems, old enemies whose grudges still hold true, and the desperation of war and racial, spiritual tension, whatever is making Frith so curt and distant will become the last thing on the Copper Cat’s mind.

Outline and juicy implications over, I’m going to jump straight to just what made this book shine for me.

Sebastian’s homosexuality is a huge YES PLEASE for me, because he’s a Knight; he’s kind and generous and gentle and noble and all those things that Lancelot wishes he’d been. And he’s gay. This strong, self-assured, noble Knight, a la the kind on white chargers and frequent denizen of fairy tales, is gay. That’s like the captain of the groan-groan Football team being gay. It’s huge. Neither bookish nor unassuming nor flamboyant and kamp – just Sebastian and just gay. I won’t spoil things, but the relationships Sebastian explores in The Iron Ghost are pieces of pure yesness. His friendship with Wydrin is greatly built upon and his gentle tenderness towards her is almost sibling in presentation. And it is perfect. Friendship is still alive and well between the sexes and Jen Williams knows all about it.

In addition, Sebastian goes through his own difficulties, acting both as you’d expect and as you wouldn’t, and thereby being entirely human in the process. Top marks for Williams.

Without saying too much, on the subject of being thrilled to pieces with Williams’ inclusiveness, I want to hint at what is, in the very least, a romance that crosses ethnic lines, and at most, becomes literally a cross-species/cross-race (depending on whether we decide to see humans as race, and the various subcategories as ethnicities instead of races in and of themselves, thereby all being human, or if the notion of “species” works better when considering relationships such as these personally. I prefer race, and anything nonhuman, I consider a separate race) relationship. An elf and human together is, in fact, just this manner of relationship, by virtue of both belonging to different races. Humans are not elves and vice versa. So the introduction of cold-blooded people whose description is most definitely not “human”? I’m calling two races here and letting out a big hip hooray.

Another aspect of Williams’ work that makes me float about happily, is the gender reversal of Wydrin and Frith. She is more typically masculine than he is, and he is more typically feminine than she is. Of course this is all based on assumed facts about gender and gender roles (which are a pile of tosh) but you know where I’m coming from and where I’m going.

Wydrin occupies the more traditional role of the masculine and Frith, the feminine. And this means so much because Frith is me: he’s quieter and reserved and definitely softer of feature that our dear Wydrin. He’s the noble (so, traditionally speaking, the princess, if you will) whilst Wydrin is the dashing rogue come to crash Frith’s neat and noble life, sweeping him away into adventure. Yes, Frith has his own agency, his own story, but the roles in their very base form are expressed well through this example.

The importance of feminism in SFF has two sides, and one I wish was talked about more: the fact that feminism is about men, too. It is about men being allowed to be the princesses. Never mine the “allowed” part – sometimes men are the princesses and women are the knights and the rogues. Taken as two separate concepts, the masculine and the feminine are merely traits, personality tenancies, aspects of a type of person. Moreover, one person can have aspects of both. They can be equally balanced between to two, or favour one more heavily. I feel that Williams knows all about this, and tackles it like a pro. All casual talent and “I’m an amazing writer” style.

I could literally go on forever about this, so I’ll curb the rampant gender discussion and save that for an article at some other point!

The Iron Ghost is sensational. It is exactly what I want fantasy to be right now: it is classic fantasy for 2015. It is where Tolkien and Eddings and Hobb have led us. Jen Williams is a classic: she delivers witty and elegant prose, deep and meaningful characters and a plot full of adventure and excitement and feeling. The Iron Ghost promises companionship and love, action and humour, and naturally, a struggle to save the world. It promises everything and delivers more.

If you aren’t already reading Williams, you should start. She is a master of the craft who doesn’t just hit the nail on the head – because the nail is already sunk too deep and she’s put the hammer down, the blow delivered before you even lifted the book.Through confident, vibrant prose and complex and relatable characters, The Iron Ghost is utterly unputdownbable and has set the bar very high for SFF in 2015.

Have at it, authors, because Williams is in the building – and she’s made herself comfortable.

battlepikapowe4's review against another edition

Go to review page

adventurous dark hopeful inspiring slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


soursock's review against another edition

Go to review page


This is a good book, and i could see a lot of people liking it. For me though, it just seemed to be written for someone younger than I. Still really enjoyed it though

llmacrae's review against another edition

Go to review page


(Copying reviews from my previous GR profile)

Bloody amazing read. Jen Williams has fast become one of my favourite authors!

I'm on mobile so shan't be writing a full review, but let's just say it has so much more of what made The Copper Promise brilliant, and I am IMMEDIATELY starting the third book in the trilogy: The Silver Tide

Read this if you love great characters, epic magic, demons, gods, and dragons!!!

taisie22's review

Go to review page

adventurous slow-paced


The further adventures of Wydrin, Seb, and Frith take them to the cold north, where they meet enemies new and old. It's an okay read, not nearly as good as the Winnowing Flame trilogy, and perhaps it's not fair for me to compare them. Some of the same themes and character types are repeated here and it's clear they were the 'practice run' for the later series which is amazing. So this is still good, but not great.

quiraang's review against another edition

Go to review page


The Black Feather Three return for their second adventure and it's as every bit as good as the first. Classic fantasy of sword and sorcery, with dragons, demons, and with a twist of dark humour, and some frustrated love, both gay and straight.

Excellent stuff - keep it up Jen - can't wait for the next outing!

lanko's review against another edition

Go to review page


Really good, with surprising twists along the way. If the first book was pretty straightforward, this one has many careful layers and foreshadowing built in.

Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith got a lot more depth here. If in the first book Sebastian was the one who took the brunt of the hard and moral decisions, here this is more evenly spread between them, although Frith has the lead on this one.

Also, there are many more secondary characters, and they also always have at very least their fifteen lines of fame, a lot growing in importance and doing memorable deeds as the story progresses. Unfortunately, Ephemeral, my favorite character since the first book, wasn't one of them and she didn't appear much either. But the other new characters made up for it. The villains are pretty good too.

Another change from the previous book is the tone and atmosphere. The first had a more adventurous feeling, and here, while having heart touching moments between some characters, also have a very grim tone in others.
There are lots of deaths, injuries and sacrifices, as there are two nations at war, a demon, a mad mage and an assassin on the loose, and the heroes also don't shy away from giving the enemy the sharp ends.
In the first book probably there were many more deaths than in here, as Y'ruen wiped out entire cities and orders, but this was told through reports, something that felt too distant and impersonal. Here the characters are always at the center of events, raging and mourning their losses, now all characters we got to know, even if briefly, and the deaths always happens in front of at least one character, shown to us, a much more powerful and welcome change.

This is balanced by Sebastian's doubts and feelings towards his daughters and someone special, Frith remains insufferable and since they tend to be serious, Wydrin's humor really shines.

I also liked that events of the first book are used to remind us of those events. They don't appear just in the beginning as some failed attempt to disguise a summary of the previous book like I've seen some trying to do, but appear throughout the story in small dosages. This is good for those who remember them and for those who don't it will bring the memory back.

Two things that I found strange, though:
Spoiler In the first book's ending, 200 Brood sisters remain alive after the battle and decide to follow Sebastian. Here, there is only about 48 or 50, and unless I missed something, it's never explained what happened to the other 150.
Also, O'rin, who is supposed to a powerful god with knowledge of the Edeian, dies really, really easily, without managing to throw a single attack.

Great read, and there are hints of even greater things to come in the next volume.