BOOK REVIEW: The Silver Tide

SilverTideTitle: The Silver Tide

Author: Jen Williams

Publisher: Headline

Published: 25 February 2016

RRP: £14.99


Tales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother.

Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has ever returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed…

The Silver Tide is the third and final entry in The Copper Cat trilogy, and at this point you really do need to go back and start from the beginning or you will be more lost than a pirate looking for treasure without a map; but it’s well worth the journey, because The Copper Cat trilogy is the kind of swords and sorcery fantasy which will make you remember why you became a fan of the genre in the first place, and fall in love with it all over again.

It’s both fascinating and hugely fun to see Wydrin join forces with her mother, Devinia the Red. This is partly because they are startlingly similar and it’s obvious where Wydrin gets her very gung-ho nature from, and indeed equally obvious why they had to part ways despite being blood. It’s doubly fun since the ship’s sawbones, Augusta, is herself an older version of Devinia and something of a tough-love mother figure to the pair of them. It’s incredibly refreshing to see older women in fantasy playing such major roles in the story as they do here, and in particular working together rather than competing against one another.

It isn’t long into their quest before things start to go horribly wrong, although this is really par for the course for the Black Feather Three. They are pursued both by Devinia’s nemesis, ruthless Ristanov the Banshee, and by the mysterious residents who live deep in the cursed island, led by the zealot Estenn, who has built a cult around a plan to bring back the Old Gods.

When the Three’s paths split, we follow the separate strands of their stories. All equally compelling, they are expertly woven together so that it’s clear not only how their fates are dependent on each other but also how their paths tie into the previous books. This is where the ghosts of choices past come back to haunt all of our heroes, in some very unexpected ways.  Decisions are not the only history to be made unexpectedly part of their present either, as Williams finds a way to bring back several very familiar faces, some of whom will be more welcome than others. It’s a brilliant ploy which flawlessly draws the trilogy to a truly satisfying conclusion – and one which is fit for the biggest fans of epic fantasy, featuring giant spiders, enormous flying beetles, and the kind of battles of swords, magic and wits against gods and monsters which Tolkien’s own heroes might sing about.

The beating heart of The Silver Tide is the Black Feather Three, and not just Wydrin and Frith’s romantic love but the love of three best friends for each other and for their family and allies, such as Ephemeral – Sebastian’s daughter, in every way that matters – and her husband Terin. It is this which drives the story forward and makes the quest of three mercenaries so compelling. They may be in it for adventure and coin, but when it comes right down to it, they fight for each other and for the world.

The Silver Tide is my favourite of the trilogy; a whirlwind of action, adventure and romance, it replaces songs and travelogues with bloody battles and dark magic – and the unconscious expectation even now that pirates, mayors, sailors, mercenaries, mages, sawbones and nearly all other characters in a fantasy novel will be men is shown for the absurdly limiting trope that it is, because here are women doing all of those things. This goes far beyond mere gender-flipping, which is usually just a token female character with traditionally male traits, nor does it feel like a conscious mission statement; these women just are, and they’re everywhere, of every age, colour and occupation, major and minor characters just living their lives. This is the epic fantasy world I glimpsed and fell in love with through reading JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis as a child, and I feel a bit like I’ve been on my own arduous quest through decades of pale imitations to finally reach it.

Endlessly imaginative and effortlessly bending every tired fantasy trope into something fresh, this is smart, modern fantasy full of heart, wit and fun, confident enough to slip in sly references to Flash Gordon on one page while keeping the sense of danger on the next. The Silver Tide is not to be missed.

GS Rating: 5/5
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)

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