Copper Road: Deeds has created an intriguing world

Copper Road by Marion Deeds science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCopper Road by Marion Deeds

Full disclosure: Marion is a colleague of mine (those reading this at fantasyliterature.com know that already, of course), and I also did a read of an early draft. On a more trivial note, I’ll confess it felt very strange every time I typed “Deeds”, using the author’s last name as is standard in these reviews, and not “Marion.” I give you this knowledge to do with what you may…

Copper Road (2021) is Marion Deeds’ first full novel in the BROKEN CITIES series, following on the heels of her novella set in the same universe, Aluminum Leaves. One needn’t have read Aluminum Leaves to enjoy Copper Road, though it would certainly enhance the reading experience, as there are multiple references to the novella’s events, and so I’d strongly recommend starting at, well, the start. There will be some unavoidable spoilers for the novella below, so fair warning.

Trevian and Aideen Langtree’s world is under attack from beings of another dimension who have traveled from their world to this one via a “frontera” or portal. Also crossing over, albeit from a different world, is Erin Dosmanos, who carries with her legendary artifacts that may help in the battle against the invaders. In the opening novella, Erin and Trevian meet and eventually work together against Trevian’s uncle, who has betrayed his own world and sided with the invaders for his own purposes. Now, in Copper Road, Erin and Trevian continue their battle, enlisting allies, including a group of scholars/merchants. Though thanks to the nature of the extra-dimensional creatures, they are often unsure of just whom to trust.

Meanwhile, Aideen is also defending her world against the invader’s plots, though she doesn’t know that at first. When her father suffers a suspicious accident, she finds she must work quickly to keep her place in the profitable and important business her father ran with two partners. To that end, she finds herself unexpectedly working with Ilsanja, a former close friend who became estranged after Trevian basically left her at the altar (or near enough). The women’s relationship is further complicated by the fact that Ilsanja’s father is one of the partners in the business, and the one most determined to drive Aideen out. While Trevian and Erin use magic and science to track down and battle a lair of the invaders, Aideen and Ilsanja, with the help of a sharp-minded justice (Harald) contend with bandits, corporate intrigue, and Aideen and Trevian’s villainous uncle.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this universe is the world(s) Deeds creates. Erin basically comes from our world (or close enough for government work). The Langtree’s world has clear echoes of our own but has suffered a truly cataclysmic upheaval (literally in some cases) and while the flotsam and jetsam of “The Ancients” points to a more advanced past (one eerily similar to our current times), this world is more 19th Century in terms of mechanics/industry, but also has elementals and magic. I admit to being a sucker for “ancient artifact” stories/settings, and I love the whole “one world’s science is another world’s magic” idea (the old Clarke quote comes to mind), and Deeds uses both here to good effect. Though I’m hoping to see even more of those ancient sites in greater detail in later stories. Meanwhile, the magic, while not a large part of this story (though it does play a key role at the end in several ways), is a bit less successful for me, mostly in the sense that I don’t feel I yet have a firm grip on it after one and a half (the novella) books.

(Our own) Marion Deeds

(Our own) Marion Deeds

Plot moves along quickly and fluidly and is tightly constructed, both in terms of concision and in seeding of events to come. I actually read Copper Road three times, which means I could spot more easily the little markers being set down for later points of plot or character, though I won’t give any examples so as not to spoil things. I’ll simply say it was clear to me the book was meticulously plotted and constructed. The structure, as well, was smoothly handled, not always the case in books that move back and forth between POVs and settings. The split was nicely balanced and several of the shifts did a nice job of enhancing/creating greater suspense and/or tension.

The characters are mostly engaging, though I’d say compelling to a varying degree. Trevian is probably the least interesting of the group (at least from my personal point of view), though even he has a nicely complicated backstory in terms of his relationships (or lack thereof) with his father and with Ilsanja. I like Erin’s determination, her ethical concerns over a pair of fire elementals she’s somehow become entangled with, her attempts to dig out the past of this new world and its connections to her own. I did wish for a better sense of disorientation and isolation, or at least a better sense of how she was handling it, for someone who left a traumatic experience in one world only to end up in a wholly (or nearly so) unfamiliar world surrounded by people she doesn’t know and can’t necessarily trust.

Meanwhile, Aideen and Ilsanja are both quite strong characters as well as strongly characterized. Early on, when Aideen tells Ilsanja’s father she has questions about the company, he tells her he’ll “put her fears at rest.” To which she immediately replies, “I didn’t say I had fears. I have questions.” She may have her doubts, but she doesn’t allow them to constrain her. I loved her forthrightness, her determination, the struggle she has to find her place in this society, this company. And I like how this struggle is placed not below the contest over worlds but beside it. Or as she tells her brother: “I am not a great hero like your or Yorita Dosmanos … I’m also trying to save a world, it’s just one you ignore because it is tiny.” It’s also, one might say, a world he can ignore because as a man, as a son and heir apparent, he moves so easily through that world. In a somewhat similar vein, and in an equally strong moment, Ilsanja explains to Aideen why she was upset with her brother’s abandonment of her: “Trevian never bruised my heart, Aideen … He battered my pride. I know my worth, and your brother tossed me aside as if I were a thing of no value.” The two are as good in tandem as they are individually (there’s an especially lovely and poignant segment where they discuss their mothers, no longer around), and readers will have no trouble recognizing their “value.”

The side characters who help our valiant quartet, though given less page time, are also well drawn, particularly the justice, Harald. I especially loved a tiny yet wonderfully effective moment of characterization when we first meet him, a moment that shows the empathy at his core. The head of the Copper Coalition and a scholar have far less time, but come across as people, not props, a view enhanced by their somewhat prickly relationship (though not as prickly as that between the Coalition head and Harald).

While Copper Road resolves the two immediate crises, it opens up room for the next book in the series in a variety of ways, including, it appears, a trip to another part of this world. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing that new land, as well as the way this plot unfolds.

Published in 2021. Two women from vastly different lives struggle to save their worlds. Erin fights to stop an alien invasion force, while Aideen confronts boardroom skullduggery, murder attempts and family betrayal. Erin is an interdimensional traveler who carries a magical book her family has safeguarded for generations. She and copper-hunter Trevian must find and close the portal the invaders are using. How far has the invasion spread? Who can they trust? Aideen’s father, Oswald, is the richest man in White Bluffs. His company harvests energy from fire elementals. Her brother Trevian fled their home two years ago, hunting for magical metals. Even though Oswald kept Trevian as his heir, Aideen taught herself the operations of the company. Now, with Oswald unconscious after a suspicious accident, Aideen is battling bandits and corporate raiders—and some of them are family. Copper Road picks up where the novella “Aluminum Leaves” left off, filled with magic books, bandits, mind-controlling parasites, boardroom betrayals, lesbian lovers, charms and chocolate.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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One comment

  1. Terry Connelly /

    I also enjoyed Copper Road. Equal disclaimer on my part as I have known Marion Deeds as friend, writer and critique partner for several years. What I most love is the strength of the female characters, carving out their place in a male-dominated world. They aren’t afraid to take off on their own, showing resilience, yet accepting help when needed.

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