Q & A: Alex Marshall talks ‘A Crown for Cold Silver’


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.

One of my favorite reads of last year, A Crown for Cold Silver, is being released in paperback this week.  Alex Marshall was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, writing it, and the series as a whole.  My attempt to sneak in a question about the pseudonym was unfortunately spotted though.  No big reveal coming is today =)

First off, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I am honored and I absolutely loved A Crown for Cold Silver. Because I hope my readers have the same interests as me I hope you don’t mind a line of questioning designed to sate my own curiosity!

I have talked about your book quite a bit because it is a book I really enjoyed. It was dark, gritty, funny, deep, and subversive as hell. But one question has come up in various conversations that I can’t seem to answer. Do you consider A Crown for Cold Silver to be a parody of the popular dark fantasy style (GRIMDARK) or is it a loving homage? Or were you considering the larger fantasy picture at all as your wrote it?

I consider it to be part of a long and worthy tradition, one that is very near to my heart…but no tradition is perfect, and applying a critical eye to even those that that we love helps contribute to the whole instead of detracting from it. So while there’s humor in the work that’s predicated on certain preconceptions about dark fantasy, the novel is by no means a parody. I approached the project with the utmost sincerity.

Something a little more plot specific I was wondering about. It took me a while to realize Maroto considered Zosia in a very manic pixie dream girl type of way, something that Zosia wanted no part of. This may be closely related to the previous question but did you deliberately built up specific tropes just to break them back down?

As mentioned, I’m obviously aware of all the tropes we know and love—and those we groan at—but whether I played with or against them depended on the how the characters and their world came to life, versus an overwhelming desire to take the piss. Mostly. My goal is always to tell an interesting tale that grows organically from the personalities of the players, not shoe-horn in heavy-handed statements, even those I agree with. I’m not naïve enough to think I’m reinventing the battle ax here, just offering my own modern style on a classic design.

Quite frankly I found A Crown for Cold Silver to be hilarious; often I was laughing at very inappropriate times in the story. I know writing humor is one of the hardest aspects of the craft. Does mixing humor with more serious tones make it easier, something that just flowed with your writing? Or was it always a struggle to craft just right?

I’m glad you appreciated it, and yes, it has to flow naturally or you’re in serious trouble—forcing in humor is even worse than forcing in messages.

All of Zosia’s ‘villains’ were well crafted with unique personalities. Maroto seems to get the most page time so let’s ignore him for a bit. Do you find yourself with a personal favorite villain while writing?

That’s a tough question, in part because we only see the rest of the Villains through the perspectives of their friends and foes, and in part because I’m rubbish at picking favorites in the first place. I suppose I’ll go with Hoartrap the Touch, if only because writing about weird wizards is obviously its own reward.

Last one, I promise. Can you give us a sneak peak of what to expect in the future from you and this world?

I’m not going to be done with Star and it’s many villains for some time—Book II is already in the bag, and the third is in progress. In the sequel we’ll see the scale of the peril vastly expand, even as personal conflicts sharpen to fatal points. We’ll also get to experience the perspective of characters who have thus far existed on the periphery, and the world will grow larger and richer even as its entire future is threatened. Before the end readers won’t have to wish on any devils to discover the eldritch secrets of the First Dark, and even if few of the characters particularly enjoy the ride I suspect my audience will.

Thank you so much for your time. As I said, I loved the book. Good luck in all your future endeavors.

It’s been my pleasure, and thanks again for reading.


Marshall, Alex (1608265)Alex Marshall my friends!  Anyone good enough for a blurb from Kameron Hurley ought to be good enough for all of us.

Alex Marshall is a pseudonym for an acclaimed author who has previously published several novels in different genres. – See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/alex-marshall/#about

Fantasy Review: ‘A Crown for Cold Silver’ by Alex Marshall

A Crown for Cold SilverSure, you hear it all the time. ‘Trope bending’ fantasy, as if just the act of bending tropes is noticeable and hasn’t been done almost since any kind of trend in fantasy was noticed. I am guilty of it. I enjoy a fresh take on an old tale after all. So I will forgive you if you roll your eyes as I go on about yet another ‘trope bending’ fantasy. “I don’t care,” you may be saying. “I just want to know if A Crown for Cold Silver is a good book. The answer to that is unequivocally yes.

“It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.”

No hiding the basics of the plot here; sometimes someone fucks with the wrong person. It ought to be the first rule of fantasy; when an old woman with her old dog have no fear when soldiers take over her town then perhaps someone should ask why. Would have made this a much shorter book through, so a brash young man makes a big mistake and pays for it. And now Cold Zosia, who together with her ‘five villains’ once led an army that took over a continent, is well and truly pissed and looking for revenge. She leaves the village she had been hiding in and sets off with her ‘faithful hound,’ Choplicker. A dog worth keeping your eye on.

Slowly the five villains are met; separately living very different lives since their leader supposedly died in a duel for her hard fought crown. A couple seem content to live hiding in plain sight and enjoying riches. One is trying to fight back from nasty addictions. And the last two never stopped playing power games. Zosia starts her search with the easiest to find and, as is bound to happen, slowly reunites with them all. Along the way she finds betrayals, false betrayals, and a rumor that she is out rebuilding her army before she even knows her own plans.

From there the story expands, a world and its recent history built into one book as strong as I have seen recently. Do you get tired of false world building as I often do? Name of places dropped, strange fauna mentioned but never seen, religious cults that are nothing more than a quick side story? It is a relief to read a book and realize that I am glad I marked a reference several chapters back because that info suddenly matters. Mysterious sunken lands have a strong probability of mattering soon, all the religious schisms are going to affect the upcoming war, and the land’s balance of rule between the Crimson Queen and the Black Pope of the Fallen Mother can’t last. Watch close and take good notes gentle readers.

“He loved his regiment, because they had earned his love damn it, even that fellow there picking his nose as he sat on a hogshead. Go on lad, mind all the silver ye may; you’ve earned it!”

A Crown for Cold Silver is a book that embraces the darker side of fantasy. A tone of inevitable defeat is often present, though not as bleak as some. There is a possibility of hope, but never a promise of a happy ending. Through all the blood and betrayal cuts a wicked sense of humor, usually at inopportune times.   Is it a breakdown of grimdark or a continuation of what has made it popular? Probably a bit of both.

A mold the book doesn’t break away from is the inclusion of over the top characters. Zosia is an old lady when this book starts, her glory days well behind her. But her mind is still sharp and she has a hidden trump that keeps her a bit (well, a LOT) more physically fit that people expect. Each of the villains stands out, though it is former addict Morato that gets the most page time. His deep love of Zosia is tragic, even if it is quite unhealthy. Some of the most interesting ‘what ifs’ come from a mistake he thinks he made in the depths of addiction; that mistake’s role in all that is to come is unknown but haunts him anyway. And the wizard Hoartrap? Keep your eye on him. For one he is going to play an important role in what is to come, but mostly he is just really damn entertaining.

“Her once waxy mustache had finally been tamed.”

Tropes can be played with in different ways. Expect plenty of comparisons to Joe Abercrombie and consider them apt; at least when it comes to humor and over the top characters. The First Law took all the clichés that came from the Tolkien knock offs and turned them over; quests to nowhere, mentors turned bad, etc. Marshall on the other hand twisted around a common setting and kept it complete recognizable, yet slightly different. Homosexual arraigned marriages, a man caught in the classic ‘bet on who beds the new person’ trope or a woman’s mustache are not important at all. In fact they don’t warrant a second of speculation. They are just the facts of the land in an otherwise properly grimdark land of low hope.

With such depth of setting the book started off at a slower pace and a couple of the character’s had chapters that did nothing to alieve this. The villains were unique but I felt shorted at the lack of coverage some of the more interesting ones got. Of course it should be obvious but when dealing with people as over the top as those present one shouldn’t expect much subtlety or inner depths; leading to a bit of predictability in some action. These are things I point out because I notice them, but not a single one of them messed with my enjoyment of the book.

This is the type of book that demands a reread each time a new entry into the series comes out. Surprising depth in the setting for what looks to be a simple revenge tale, escalating events that will take things to a whole new level, and characters I want to know everything about. Sometimes a book is worth they hype.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by the publisher.