A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall

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A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall

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Buy A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A fantasy novel and series opener by someone known by other names in other genres; whether a debut or not depends on who you believe he is. Although the heat levels are variable throughout, this is a good warm up act for whatever the next book in the series will bring.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 768 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-0356502830

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Zosia seems just like any other old lady. Indeed that's the mistake that Sir Efrain Hjort made as he presents her with her husband's head, severed to encourage her compliance. As Zosia hears the screams coming from what used to be her village but now the site of Hjort's latest initiative Zosia makes a vow. She'll look up some of her old acquaintances; to be more precise, the five villains she used to lead. For Zosia isn't actually that ordinary. Zosia is the legendary Cobalt Queen – a little creakier now than when she faked her death of course, but one thing is certain: she will avenge her people.

Alex Marshall is a pen name for someone who uses other names in other genres, that's something everyone agrees. Who is he? Well, the whispers have begun. A few of the voices are offering apparent evidence that he's Mark Barrowcliffe, author of the successful soon-to-be-film Girlfriend 44 and, as Mark Alder the author of the excellent historical fantasy Son of the Morning. A Crown for Cold Silver doesn't just divide opinion as to who wrote it though; the reviews are showing it to be a marmite of a read. Where do I stand? Well…

I love a large fantasy cast and am more than happy with a-viewpoint-per-chapter formats but make one proviso: I'd like to be around each character long enough to connect. This is a novel that starts with a wonderfully shocking and bloody opening chapter, including black humour from the evil but inept Efrain Hjort. However, after this we're initially thrown from one chapter to the next among many characters, making it hard to get a handle on any of them so that we'd recognise them if we met them again.

About half way in things start to fall into place and many of our travelling companions take form and shine. For instance Zosia is a game old bird and a refreshing change to have a female hero who hasn't just stepped out of an air brusher's studio. When it comes to her old gang, they're intriguingly disparate in loyalty as well as personality and geographical location.

Maroto, Hoartrap (a great name and, as it happens, a pun coated in irony), Singh, Fennec and Kangho are the sort of allies you'd like in front of you rather than behind as Alex drifts towards the Joe Abercrombie end of nice/nasty hero development (i.e. scrumptiously nasty).

My favourite hero (apart from the good lady herself) is Maroto. He's reduced to taking fops on adventure holidays while remembering his past, long gone days of daring do until fate intervenes and he gets a chance to take his paying clients on a real quest.

I also love Sullen, a giant of a teenager, packed with brute force and naiveté. He's not one of the five but gets mixed up with them as he carries his grandfather on his back in search of a lost relative. Once we realise who that relative is, the frissons of anticipation start! Talking about frissons of anticipation, there are some interesting revelations regarding Zosia's Gnasher-alike pet dog too.

Alex's world is an interesting one: a female pope vies with a queen and there's also a female emperor, gender being of no importance or handicap either in the boardroom or indeed bedroom. For this reason it sometimes takes a little while to differentiate hes from shes but this is refreshing and made me realise just how much I depend on gender to define a character in my imagination rather than concentrating on the traits on the page.

Like all good epic fantasy the action hurtles towards a massive clash with some great skirmishes and twists from previously hidden agendas, gradually revealed on the way.

There are times when we feel the 700 pages+ but, having said that, this is just a first in series. We're just warming up and, as the personalities and humanity seeps through this world of warring, gods and devils, A Blade of Black Steel (Book 2 currently due out May 2016) is definitely one I'll be watching out for.

(A thank you to Orbit for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: Whoever we think wrote A Crown for Cold Silver, Mark Barrowcliffe/Mark Alder's Son of the Morning is a must for all epic/historical fantasy fans so have a look and see if there are any similarities.

Buy A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Crown for Cold Silver: Book One of the Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall at Amazon.com.

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