A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshell, was difficult to come to a final verdict on. While I was originally drawn in at the start of the book by the interesting characters, funny prose, and world building, I found myself bogged down with creeping problems as the story progressed. Everything that got me excited in the novel was counterbalanced with a problem that frustrated me to no end, making it hard to crystallize my feelings. In the end I had to make a list of pros and cons to determine if I liked it.
The book was immediately appealing to me based on its premise; an older, grizzed, badass woman comes out of retirement to assemble a super team and smack down some people ruining her country. The book follows a variety of characters in a land locked in a civil war between a queen and a pope. The primary POV is that of Zosia, the ex-queen of the now contested empire who decided that politics didn’t suit her and just walked away. She originally became queen after a stunning military campaign, in which she and her five lieutenants waged a brilliant war that eventually won her the throne; or so we are told. The book takes place after that first conquest, when a tragic event pulls Zosia out of retirement and convinces her to find her old compatriots and reconquer the land all over again. Super friends are usually my bread and butter. I love a story about a group of individuals with versatile skills and assets that bend together to accomplish something. Here Crown succeeds as the group of characters is well rounded and interesting, even though there character depth did not seem especially deep.
This is also where we see the first issue; it’s really hard to write a story about a character who is “the best”. The story cannot have them always succeeding for obvious reasons, but they are also supposed to be the greatest. As our novel progresses it is said multiple times that Zosia is the best person ever; which only makes it truly awkward and painful as we watch her fail to do things consistently. Despite having an interesting and well rounded cast, the characters are not really that likable, which can make immersion difficult. The story made it harder and harder to care about our “heroes” as we watch them categorically mess up across the novel, trying desperately to grasp the basic happenings around them and attempt to stop getting screwed over at every turn.
Back on the positive side, the prose and the dialogue were fairly good. I found myself laughing at multiple sections of the book and, while I cringed at a few pieces of dialogue, really enjoyed most of the character interactions. Several characters were stuck in interesting scenarios, including one who was playing babysitter to a group of nobles in powdered wigs that wanted to learn to fight that amused me to no end. I enjoyed a few of the cultural nuances, such as the importance of pipe carving, and enjoyed having some non-heterosexual characters for once.
That being said, the world building as a whole left a lot to be desired. The cultures were not really inventive, which feels like a strange critique for me as it is not something I generally ever notice. At times the novel felt like it was actually a historical fiction the veneer was so thin. In addition, the social dynamics were weirdly written. I would almost be willing to bet that Alex Marshall originally wrote this novel with a more male cast, and then went back and changed half the men to women and made everyone bisexual to make it work. I have absolutely no problem with female, or male, characters doing anything, or anyone, but in many places I had the weird sensation that I was reading typos when it came to assigning gender. Some of you might think that this has to do with my preconceived gender roles, but the passages I am talking about are more about things like one woman in the entire book being heavily mustached (not a cultural thing, just one woman in the entire world has basically a full mustache) and it is never commented on once. I saw instances of men and women wearing articles of clothing that sounded like the were designed for the other gender (for example men wearing shirts with extra room in the chest region). In addition, in a few instances it felt like the book was simply being lazy by saying characters were bisexual. There was no talk of societal norms for why this was so, or explanations of how this type of society would be different from our current real world one, it felt like it was written in to make gender swaps easier.
The book left me curious to see where the story was going, and the ending made me consider purchasing the second novel when it comes out later this year. However, I would only do so if some of the many small issues plaguing the book are addressed in the next chapter of the story. A Crown for Cold Silver feels like a book that is trying too hard to be edgy and different. If the author spent less time trying to think of inventive twists and weird character quirks, and more time on basic storytelling fundamentals, I think I would have liked the book a lot more. I feel that the problems outweigh the positives, and do not recommend A Crown for Cold Silver.
My copy of A Crown for Cold Silver was provided for me free by Orbit through Netgalley.com in exchange for an unbiased review.