Marshall takes all of the tropes we have grown to love about military fantasy, throws in a spot of interdimensional gates and devil-summoning, and delivers a novel that has no holy cows.
While the story maintains what I’d describe as a feeling of authenticity, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s a satirical buzz flowing along with the chapters that made me wriggle my toes in grim pleasure.
Told from multiple points of view, A Crown for Cold Silver is the first in a trilogy and brings readers into the epic years after the main players’ ‘happily ever after’ turned sour. We meet Zosia and her five Villains, veterans of a failed revolution when Zosia tried her best to tear down the Crimson Empire and bring about what I can only describe as a ‘people’s revolution’. Which didn’t work. And for 20 years, Zosia has been happily married in obscurity, having faked her own death. That is until the Crimson Empire massacres her entire village, putting the feared general on the warpath once again. And she’s a tough old bird. Even though she’s no longer young and quite as spritely.
Added to this are the machinations of the queen vs. the religious order of the Burnished Chain (so essentially secular vs. sacred rule), and a new bunch of renegades stirring up trouble in the spirit of Zosia of old. The entire novel follows assorted characters all headed towards the inevitable great battle, where old and new betrayals, reversals, and unexpected revelations are the order of the day.
What I appreciated about this novel was the way that Marshall portrays the futility of warfare for what it is, how people are wont to lie to themselves (and others) about honour, when at the end of the day everyone is reduced to so much dead flesh and gore. In the midst of it all, characters suffer existential epiphanies, while they struggle to make sense of their life goals once they realise that what they thought they wanted, isn’t necessarily for the best.
This is a deliciously ultra-violent, blood-drenched and awful story not for the faint of heart. I loved every minute of it. There were times when I thought of Pratchett’s Discworld, but just helluva darker and far denser in terms of writing.