If We Shadows Have Offended: Fighting the Fae in Brittany N. Williams’s Saint-Seducing Gold

Books Reviews Brittany N. Williams
If We Shadows Have Offended: Fighting the Fae in Brittany N. Williams’s Saint-Seducing Gold

The year is 1606. Queen Elizabeth is dead, King James has taken over patronage of William Shakespeare’s theater troupe (now the King’s Men), and Joan Sands is in over her head when it comes to the fae who are invading England. That’s the premise of Brittany N. Williams’s “Forge & Fracture” Saga, which continues in this month’s release, Saint-Seducing Gold. The books are infused with drama—both on stage with the players and on the streets of London—swordplay, romance, murder, and mischief. Williams leans heavily into her Shakespearean influences, brings to life a system of magic inspired by Orisha worship, and presents her fae as both monstrous and beautiful.

To set the scene, when Joan takes the stage of That Self-Same Metal, which came out a year ago, the audience sees her world for the first time: the Globe Theater, where she works with the King’s Men as their fight coordinator. Joan is a gifted choreographer and fighter, in part because of her unique connection with Ogun, the Orisha of iron and war. Ogun’s blessing allows Joan to shape metal, especially iron, which makes her gifted in all sorts of metal work, including dulling the stage blades to make them less dangerous to her actors (who do not always follow her directions as well as they should). She and the other Orisha worshippers of London can see fae in their midst—it’s a blessing from their patrons—and they’ve long known that creatures of magic exist side by side with humanity. But something has shifted the balance, and when Joan overhears her godfather, Baba Ben, explaining that the king must renew “the Pact” or things will go badly, she begins to get a peek into the very, very bad things that are about to happen.

Without the king’s willingness to believe in something he dismisses as superstition, Baba Ben is arrested, and the Pact falls, and the fae—the most dangerous ones among them—are no longer bound to simple acts of mischief. Fae who were banished to the fairy world entirely are now free and roaming about, causing devastation wherever they walk. One of them, Auberon, seems to be the greatest threat, and after Joan foolishly saves the life of a young man, she gains the attention of Lord Salisbury, the king’s spymaster. He tasks her with killing Auberon and ending the fae threat, or he’ll bring harm to her family.

To avoid detailed spoilers, it seems by the end of That Self-Same Metal that Joan has at least brought some stability back to London, though it has gained her the unwanted eye of the spymaster, who remains a danger to her entire family. But as the early pages of Saint-Seducing Gold open, readers learn that the fae threat is still only beginning, and Joan has far greater enemies to worry about. Titanea has disguised herself as Queen Anne and is infiltrating the Royal Court. To make matters worse, she’s taken a liking to Joan and intends to keep her close, ordering her to become a lady-in-waiting. While this elevates Joan’s status, it also tears her from everything she cares about: her father’s goldsmithing, the King’s Men, her beloved twin brother, James, and one of the actors, Nick Tooley, with whom she hopes she might one day reach an understanding. It also puts her once again in the path of Lord Salisbury, who is determined that Joan’s rising star should fall in the most disastrous way possible—even if he has to accuse her of witchcraft and see her burned.

With the help of Rose, the half-mortal daughter of Robin Goodfellow, Joan navigates the court, hoping to find a way to rescue her godfather from the Tower of London and re-establish the Pact before Titanea causes more harm. But there are limits to what Joan can do, and secrets she may not be able to keep. And as the danger grows, so does the violence, and Joan knows there’s no way to save everyone she loves.

Joan is a strong protagonist; she’s seventeen as Saint-Seducing Gold opens, and the world-shaking events happening around her are frequently cast in relief against her own inner turmoil. How should she relate to her Orisha, especially when at times the spirit seems to want to be in control? What can she expect from her future, especially when her fortune changes so rapidly? Whom is she allowed to love—and, if she loves two people, can she make that work for all of them? All of her messy teenage chaos is on full display as she tries to manage it, and keep her own stray thoughts and desires from interfering with her quest to keep her community safe. (The love triangle that began in That Self-Same Metal, in which Joan is attracted to, and possibly in love with, both Nick and Rose, is less of a question in the second book, and more of a logistics and communication problem, which is a refreshing take on that particular YA trope.)

She also has to face the racism of her city and time, especially at the Royal Court. Williams points out very deliberately that queer people and people of color were absolutely present in London during Shakespeare’s days (fae presence, however, is debatable). While Joan and her family—and the whole Orisha worshiping community—never question their own value, some of the people in power make sure to point out the status differential between them. Slurs, especially from certain members of the royal household, sting Joan, though she does her best not to let that show. She faces disrespect with resilience, unwilling to let those who insult her have the upper hand. (It’s also that defiance that constantly draws the ire of Lord Salisbury, no doubt because he believes she should show him deference.)

But while Joan is the star of the novels, especially for the target YA audience, adult readers who also love YA may find themselves more deeply invested in the setting itself, with its fairy-story horrors (the red caps are particularly brutal, but they’re not the most dangerous among the fae). Williams casts Shakespeare as a light-skinned descendent of Orisha-worshiping people himself; he carries an Orisha blessing, just like Joan. Readers familiar with Shakespeare’s company will no doubt recognize many of the members of the King’s Men, especially star actor Richard Burbage. The sights and sounds of London, minus the fae, are drawn with a great sense of realism, both the opulence of Whitehall and the gory spectacle of London Bridge, with the heads of traitors decorating its spires. The camaraderie and packed crowd of the Globe, especially among the groundlings, gives readers a sense of what it might have been like to watch Shakespeare’s plays when they were new. (Saint-Seducing Gold features a possible first performance of the Scottish Play, and quite possibly the first occurrence of that play’s famous curse.)

With its depth of setting, unbridled danger of the fae, and a protagonist determined to stand between her friends and danger, the “Forge and Fracture Saga” is a perfect series for theater lovers to pick up. (Williams is, herself, a Shakespearean actor with plenty of stage combat experience, and it shows in the way she writes.) While this second installment ends on a cliffhanger, it also lands our heroes in a place of hope that they will be able to overcome. And it leaves readers hoping that the concluding volume doesn’t come too far in the future!

Saint-Seducing Gold is available now.

Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose multiple-choice novels, including Choice of the Pirate and Blackstone Academy for Magical Beginners, are published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels, several short stories, and many role-playing game supplements. She also edits fantasy anthologies for Outland Entertainment, including Bridge to Elsewhere and Never Too Old to Save the World. You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.

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