Jen Williams’ first two books, The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost are two of my favorite novels. Fast, massively creative, very funny and wonderfully nasty they follow an unlikely trio of occasional thieves and part time heroes as they inadvertently change their world, screw up a lot, save people and get drunk.They’re amazing and the only sad thing about the third book being out is this is the last time we’ll see these characters.
But perhaps not the last time they’ll see us…
I talked to her about the release of the final volume, The Silver Tide, and what’s next for her.
Tell us a little about the third book.
I won’t say too much because we all hate spoilers, but in THE SILVER TIDE the Black Feather Three are recovering from the events of the previous book – some recovering better than others, it has to be said – when the opportunity for adventure arises from an unexpected source: Wydrin’s mother, the infamous pirate Devinia the Red. Devinia requires the use of their particular talents to sail her ship right into the heart of the island of Euriale – a place of forbidden knowledge and monsters from which it is said no one ever returns. But there will be treasure, right? Right. As might be expected, the island’s reputation is the least of their problems, and soon Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian aren’t just fighting for their lives, but for the very future of their world.
How have the characters changed across the trilogy?
As resistant as they may seem to learning sometimes, it appears the sheer number of horrid things I have put them through has indeed changed them. Wydrin has gone from a feckless (if charming) thief to the leader of their small group. She comes up with their plans and makes decisions, even if they’re not especially great ones, and Sebastian, once an idealistic ex-knight, has come to find that there are no easy choices. However, the biggest change has probably been in our Lord Aaron Frith. In THE COPPER PROMISE he is a sneering, arrogant, enormously damaged man who will gladly throw anyone under a dragon to get what he wants – by the events of THE SILVER TIDE, he is a much more introspective figure. Still ruthless, but fiercely loyal in his own way too.
How have you changed as you’ve written them? Has your favorite changed?
Oh gosh I’m not sure. I’ve certainly become more confident as a writer, and I feel like less of an imposter – I know it sounds weird to say that, but writers generally are walking disasters constructed from self-doubt and delicate egos, and we tend to come out with this sort of nonsense. I went from writing books for fun, essentially, to seeing my books in shops, working to deadlines, and learning huge amounts about the editing process in a very short amount of time. I think I’m happier because I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and hopefully I’m gradually getting better at it. Specifically, I think the Copper Cat trilogy taught me that it’s important to enjoy the story, and to have fun; the more fun you have, the more the reader will enjoy it too. Sometimes you find yourself writing a scene that feels like drowning yourself in porridge. When that happens, cut it. Or replace it with a scene where everyone gets drunk.
Blimey, choose a favourite, as in favourite character? How dare you. I’ve always been enormously fond of all three main characters of the Copper Cat books, all for slightly different reasons. Wydrin has always been the most fun to write, as she was the character who turned up fully formed in my head and starting bossing me around. Sebastian is the emotional heart of the books, the character striving to do right, and you can’t help loving someone who is so thoroughly decent, deep down. Frith’s journey through the books has been important to me, and there are several scenes with him in THE SILVER TIDE that felt like I had managed to say something about the central message of the trilogy – that you’re not bound by your past, and that it’s possible to heal. He’s my favourite because of that, I think. If we’re talking favourite books, that is equally impossible to answer. THE COPPER PROMISE was the book that got me published, and so it will always be special. THE IRON GHOST was the book that I sweated blood over, the one I was deeply uncertain about, yet readers have told me it’s a level up from the first – I feel like I’ve earned that one, which makes me love it all the more. THE SILVER TIDE though, was the most fun to write.
What didn’t make it into the book?
There are a couple of characters from the previous two books that I would have liked to have said goodbye to, but I couldn’t quite squeeze them in; in the end, there is an awful lot packed into THE SILVER TIDE already so I couldn’t really justify it. Oh, there was an underground library and a mysterious temple that had to be cut for sense/space reasons, but there is a giant arachnoid creature who appears partly because I had to cut a giant arachnoid creature out of the first book. I am keen on giant arachnoid creatures, it seems.
Is this the book you planned to write back when Copper Promise came out?
Back then I only had a vague sense of what the third book would be about. I had an idea about the central turning point of the book (which I cannot speak of due to spoilers) and I knew, for example, that I wanted Wydrin’s mother to make an appearance – partly because the dialogue between them would be a joy, and partly because we don’t see mothers and older women being significant characters in fantasy books often enough – but beyond that, it was an undiscovered country. It is the ending I wanted for them though, now that we’re here.
Any plans to return to Wydrin, Seb and Frith one day or are they riding off into the sunset, probably drunkenly?
I’m a big believer in giving things a proper ending and going out in style, and hopefully THE SILVER TIDE does that. However, I’d be a dirty liar if I said I didn’t want to spend more time with the Black Feather Three. I’m sure there will at least be some short stories set in Ede, or perhaps a novella or two. There will always be some part of me that’s in a tavern somewhere, listening to one of Wydrin’s terrible stories, or losing to her at cards.
What can you tell us about the new trilogy?
Very little at the moment, as I’m still figuring it all out myself and I suspect anything I told you would have changed by the time THE NINTH RAIN arrives. It’s secondary world fantasy, it’s less to do with playing with sword and sorcery tropes than the Copper Cat books, but I’m still fully devoted to having fun with fantasy (or writing Gleedark, as it was called once). There’s a lot more blood and a bit more sex, and some witches who blow things up.
Wydrin, Seb and Frith. Who’s an early riser and who’s a night owl?
Ah, well, growing up in the Knights of Ynnsmouth Sebastian was up with every dawn, and he hasn’t quite lost that habit, dragging himself out of bed at sunrise regardless of how late Wydrin kept him in the tavern the night before. Wydrin, of course, is no fan of early mornings and will stay in bed as long as possible, while her natural home is prowling a city’s streets late at night. When Frith was a young man living in Blackwood Keep, he was very partial to afternoon naps, but he gets less rest these days.
Thanks Jen, both for the chat and the amazing books. All three volumes are available now and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Click here and get ready to fall into the gloriously disreputable company of The Black Feather Three.