In The Ninth Rain, first in The Winnowing Flame Trilogy, Jen Williams brings a fresh and unique story to the fantasy genre; a book that strides across epic fantasy and probes the boundaries into sci-fi.
The Eboran Empire was Sarn’s first line of defense against their ancient foe, the Jure’lia. Over centuries, they would send defeating waves of attacks, only to be repelled by the Eboran warriors and their war beasts.
They finally brought peace to Sarn, but at a dreadful cost; the annihilation of the Ju’relia meant the death of their god. Without the sustenance from their god, Ebora is collapsing in upon itself.
This is the world we are thrust into, as alongside Tormalin, Vintage and Noon we discover the enemy may have left some surprises behind.
I came into The Ninth Rain straight off the back of The Copper Cat trilogy; my expectations were high, and I was not disappointed. It’s a beautiful progression of Jen Williams’ writing. Whereas we’re used to plenty of action and a hearty pace, here Williams presents us with something altogether more multilayered and polished. Don’t be fooled, we’re not missing any of that action or pace; but in The Ninth Rain Williams has honed her writing craft. The prose is beautiful, with care taken over wonderfully descriptive language and nuances of emotion; it is clear that time has been taken over the planning of this story and this novel does an effective job of introducing us to Williams’ new world and setting us up for the trilogy, whilst at the same time carrying an exciting plot that doesn’t drown us in exposition.
There was so much about this book that surprised me and challenged my perceptions of genre; I find myself so quick to label books and sort them into specific pigeon holes, and before I had even started I presumed The Ninth Rain was a straight-forward fantasy. There’s a griffin on the cover. The blurb promises monsters, abominations, collapsing empires, conspiracies, magic, war. There’s even a hint of pyromania. But this book refuses to be contained. There are whiffs of a dystopian society; a post-apocalyptic empire, a tyrannical dictatorship using religious fervour as a basis for institutionalised abuse. There is an exciting sci-fi element that takes you unawares, and it even flirts tentatively on the side with steam-punk.
What truly sets Williams’ writing apart, for me, is her characters. I love their depth, their complications, their moral ambiguity. You can’t always trust in the ideal that a hero will have heroic motivations; Williams’ characters are more human, we explore their weaknesses, their guilt, their realisation that there is a correct course of action but their selfish motivations are taking them down an entirely different path. This “antihero” archetype isn’t new, it’s quite popular amongst “grimdark” fantasy; the “tortured soul”. But what is different in the characters of The Ninth Rain is that they’re still ultimately lovable; you fall for them, you understand their motivations and forgive them, you hope they will learn and grow. You hope, but you’re not entirely sure, they’ll do whats right in the end.
In short, this is yet another display of Jen Williams’ apparently inexhaustible imagination. It is a world utterly different from her previous work. She carries forth her strengths (strong and diverse characters, intricate world building, original humour) and immerses you in a whole new mythology.
In the words of Dan Sutcliffe, “More please.”
P.S Thought you couldn’t beat “follow that centipede”?
The Ninth Rain is available at The Book Depository
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