The Bitter Twins, released tomorrow but gratefully received from Netgalley, is the second book in Jen Williams’ Winnowing Flame Trilogy, following on from The Ninth Rain (find my review here).
The Jure’lia have returned, but Ebora is not as it once was, and though The Ninth Rain has fallen, the war beasts have hatched too early and are weak. Can the heroes find a way to work together, find a link to the past, in time to beat their age old enemy?
My first impression, in attempting to review this book, is how seamlessly the story transitioned from the end of The Ninth Rain and into The Bitter Twins. The opening three chapters work brilliantly; first, Williams gives the reader what they want, the answer to the cliff hanger from the previous book. Next, we’re introduced to a new character whose situation is mysterious and intriguing; before finally bringing in the main characters we fell in love with in an action packed sequence. There are gentle reminders in this third chapter of events from the first book, which normally I dislike in books that are parts of series; but this was done so subtly that it took me awhile to realise what it was doing. It’s a fantastic opening to a book; appeasement, followed by intrigue then action, and it really prevented me from resurfacing after the immersion of the first book.
I felt the writing wasn’t as polished as The Ninth Rain, there were one or two instances where the continuity left me a little confused; for example there is an instance where the characters are in a room but next they are seemingly approaching a wagon in a courtyard. The edition I read was an e-book acquired through Netgalley, downloaded back in December, so I look forward to rereading a physical copy and seeing if there is a difference. These instances were rare and not at all typical of Williams’ other writing.
The second book in a trilogy is always tricky, it runs the risk of being merely filler; an inconsequential stepping stone to The Final Book. The Bitter Twins managed to avoid the usual pitfalls. There were new plot elements that expanded the story and gave it a purpose to continue, yet it still felt like a progression of the same story and not something completely different. There were new characters who brought new layers to the story, without detracting from the previous characters or shifting focus away from them; Williams’ character portrayal is masterful and as ever there is such depth and range of emotion to these characters. You feel like you have come to know them intimately and yet on the next page they still surprise you; Williams doesn’t always give the reader what they want and this is certainly true of her characters and their moral ambiguity.
There was so much in this book to give the reader pause for thought. The bonds we make, through families and relationships, and the affects such bonds have on our motivations and actions. What brings us closer. How far we can stretch them. What finally snaps these bonds altogether. Questions of origin and faith, and the crumbling foundations they’re often built upon. Exploring myths, how truths twist into legends and the consequences of forgetting, of not learning from the past.
I keep trying to return to the book to read more, forgetting that I’ve finished it. I’m still caught up in it and I find myself missing the characters, wanting to hear their voices again. I cannot wait to discover where Williams will take particular story lines, there is so much left unanswered, drawing you on to the final book. As I mentioned in my review for The Ninth Rain, there is evidence here that Williams has carefully crafted and planned this story to reach across the three books; a different approach to her previous writing, but one that is very successful in its execution. The fact that the narrative flows so beautifully, the plot driven so perfectly, is testament to her skill. What’s more, Williams is able to blend quintessential fantasy (axe-wielding warriors, elven-like characters, witches and dragons) with sci-fi (alien races and space ships) into a deliciously boundary blurring, genre breaking tale. She makes it feel so natural and yet it is something completely fresh and diverse to my usual fare.
And now for the agonising wait for the final installment…
The Bitter Twins will be released on Thursday 8th of March.
There is currently a fantastic blog tour for The Bitter Twins, details here:
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