Incredibly hard to put down and absolutely captivating, The Ninth Rain is classic high fantasy transfigured with a unique voice.
Jen Williams’ debut fantasy trilogy, The Copper Cat, was a grand fun-filled adventure with great characters that I’ve grown to love throughout the three books. In my review of The Silver Tide, I commended the author in crafting a modern high fantasy tale that was her own instead of emulating the increasingly popular grimdark sub-genre. As much as I loved The Copper Cat trilogy by the end of it, I can put my hand to my heart now and say that without a doubt The Winnowing Flame is going to top that easily.
Williams had clearly grown by leaps and bounds as an author when she started writing The Ninth Rain. And it is more than just her ability to create a fascinating world and sympathetic characters. The world of Sarn is complex, imaginative and unique. There is deep lore and history at play here when the Prologue is dated two hundred years before the timeline of the main narrative. In this Prologue, we see the aftermath of an invasive war which occurred centuries ago, which left an Eboran god dying after it summoned The Eighth Rain, and together with it the long-lived people of Ebora.
There is so much that is alien and strange in this world; from the remnants left behind by the invaders, who are termed Jure’lia meaning worm people, to the existence of fell-witches who can conjure winnowfire by taking life energy with a single touch, and even the Eborans themselves. However, and this is why I say Williams has improved her writing skills, I slipped into her eldritch worldbuilding as easily as putting on a well-fitted silk robe. There is just something in her simple yet effective writing and how she crafted the story that was so enthralling and immersive. It lured me in from the very beginning, and I was completely hooked once I’ve met the primary characters.
Vintage, an Indiana Jones-like explorer who is determined to learn all she can about the Jure’lia. Tormalin the Oathless, probably the last fighting-fit Eboran who fled his dying country and people, and became Vintage’s hired muscle. Noon, a fugitive fell-witch who escaped the inhuman containment and exploitation of the Winnowry, and fell into the company of Vin and Tor. These three characters form the bulk of the narrative and they are wonderfully written. You don’t get your typical heroic fellowship here. They are flawed and complex individuals who formed a partnership through self-serving reasons, but eventually forged a bond of companionship through life-threatening situations. The best part of the characterisation was how their motivations and thoughts were laid bare to the readers, making the characters feel very real and relatable.
Almost every chapter was preceded by letters or an excerpt from the journal of Vintage that served as chapter epigraphs. These excerpts aided the worldbuilding exposition while avoiding the dreaded info-dumping monologues. On top of that, it also gave some insight into the character and backstory of Vintage herself. With that, I want to come back to the worldbuilding again, as I simply cannot get enough of it. The Jure’lia was the most alluring aspect as these worm people are alien invaders. Their technology is both strange and wondrous. Where did they come from? What do they want? And what are these parasite spirits which haunt the sites of the Jure’lia ships that have crashed centuries ago?
So many questions asked, and only some of these were answered, to a certain extent. At the same time, some discoveries only led to even more questions. And this is why I was so entranced by the story that Jen Williams has weaved with so much skill and agility. That tantalising trail of bread crumbs, deviously laid with bite-sized morsels, which only make you crave for more of what lies ahead and that final delicious piece.
There is an earnestness in Jen Williams’ writing. An honesty and lack of pretension that I find refreshing and so enjoyable to read. I find it hard to explain as it is so intangible, but that was how I felt when I read The Copper Cat and again with this book. I am holding back from diving into the sequel immediately, bearing in mind that the concluding volume is going to be released over a month away. The Ninth Rain is such a fantastic entry that I have a strong feeling that The Winnowing Flame might end up being one of my favourite trilogies.