A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall
FIVE VILLAINS. ONE LEGENDARY GENERAL. A FINAL QUEST FOR VENGEANCE.
Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history.
Now the peace she carved for herself has been shattered by the unprovoked slaughter of her village. Seeking bloody vengeance, Zosia heads for battle once more, but to find justice she must confront grudge-bearing enemies, once-loyal allies, and an unknown army that marches under a familiar banner.
I picked up A Crown for Cold Silver because Kameron Hurley blurbed it. “An epic fantasy that will surprise you. When was the last time you read one of those? Marshall deftly sets up and subverts expectations at every turn. If you think you know what’s coming, think again.” Take note, folks: that works. Otherwise I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
It’s a secondary world fantasy with multiple points of view. Alex Marshall has created a deep, engaging world revealed slowly but comfortably. I continually experienced the desire to know more, but never desperately. That is to say I wasn’t confused. The mysteries aren’t dangled like ever receding carrots so much as they’re blended in for flavor.
The story begins on a grand scale. A regimental colonel has been tasked with making an example of an outlying village. With his two superhuman guards he confronts the town’s nominal leader. She just happens to be one of the world’s most fearsome legends.
It starts out as a revenge tale and morphs into the band getting back together which is itself subsumed under a tangentially related epic confrontation between political and military ambitions. It never gives up the intensity and importance of personal relationships, though. Familial, martial, and filial bonds drive most of the characters and inform their realistic if often objectively bad decisions.
Almost unconsciously, the reader experiences a world where same sex relationships are quotidian. They’re not more prominent, they just are, too. And that’s great. It wasn’t until I was at the end of the book where I wondered whether they weren’t ubiquitous. And right around then, I discovered they were. I never felt pushed or overwhelmed.
So it’s doing all that right. There are plenty of strong flawed male and female characters, and even some complex representations of mustachioed women and veiled men. But, again, it isn’t overwrought. It just is. Engels in the fantastic.
The story’s compelling and there’s a real sense of fun. It’s a grim revenge tale that nonetheless plays with the conventions associated with that kind of thing. A sense of what a band of lusty conquerors might be like as people and what getting that band back together might entail.
Recommended for fans of City of Stairs, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and season 9 of Stargate: SG-1.