Today we announced that Angry Robot has acquired North American rights to Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise, a bestselling epic fantasy in the U.K. about magic and mages and monsters and gods…and, we’d wager, a dragon or two. In anticipation of the 2016 stateside release, Jen shares her thoughts about writing sword and sorcery for a modern audience.
When I first started writing The Copper Promise, I knew that I wanted to write a quick and breezy pulp novella (this really is, if nothing else, a quick lesson on how rapidly you lose control of a story). I had just finished writing the rough draft of a very dark horror novel – all serial killer hauntings and London dirt – and my brain was in the mood for something completely different. I had a hankering for sword and sorcery: wild magic, outlandish monsters, snappy banter, and a cracking pace. However, when I sat down to write it I quickly realized that things had changed, or, at least, they had for me.
Gone were the days when I was satisfied with characters who were there to wield a sword or to take a blade to the chest and not do much else; gone was my need for books where the characters breezed through adventures with no thought to the consequences of their actions. In short, I was greedy. I wanted magic and adventure and a lighthearted tone alongside characters real enough that I could imagine sharing a pint with them in a tavern, real enough that I shared their agonies and triumphs.
I wanted all of that, which is probably why The Copper Promise quickly morphed from a slinky little novella to a book that can be used as a fairly effective blunt weapon. The truth is, the characters did become like real people to me, and it can be difficult to restrict real people – flawed, irresponsible people – to the length of a novella. Particularly if, for example, they accidentally unleash an elder god, and then have to deal with the grumpy thing, even though they’re not actually getting paid to do it. There tends to be a lot of fallout from an incident like that, and my original tiny novella couldn’t contain it all.
And there was more to it than that. At the time I was writing the book, fantasy was in quite a serious groove: there was a lot of realism and a lot of grit, with armies and bloodshed and back-stabbing. Sword and sorcery was, if anything, a tiny wee bit unfashionable, and possibly with good reason. If you go back and read the original Conan stories now, you may find your eyebrows edging towards your hairline over some of the attitudes seeping in around the edges. I adore Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories (how could I not? The DNA of the Copper Cat books is riddled with their genetic material) but even so they probably don’t rank highly on the List of Times Women Were Treated Really Well in Fantasy Books. Well, it’s the 21st century now, we’re living in the crazy future – I carry the internet in my pocket and I’m listening to my music out of a tiny wireless black box. Of course fantasy should have a more varied cast, and by Jaga, why wouldn’t we want that? Diversity should be the living, breathing heart of our genre, because it gives us that delicious realism that is vital to truly transporting the reader to a fantasy realm. Nothing, in fact, reminds me that I’m reading something made up more than a conspicuous lack of women who do anything other than moon over the male characters, or gay people who are uniformly villains, or everyone being mysteriously white.
So I’ve decided to have the whole sword and sorcery cake, with monstrous sponge and eldritch frosting. You can have magic and monsters and dungeons and dragons; you can have consequences and grey morality and angst and sex and arguments; and you can have the full range of the human experience. You can have all the things, and that’s why modern sword and sorcery is my giant cake of choice.
The Copper Promise will be published in North America in July 2016