One word. INCREDIBLE.
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy has earned a perfect 5-star rating from me and deserved ALL of it. The Poison Song not only lived up to its astoundingly good prequels, but it also delivered an exquisitely emotional and satisfying conclusion.
I’ve always refrained from mentioning plot points in my reviews for concluding books to avoid inadvertent spoilers. Instead, I will explain why I believed that Jen Williams’ sophomore trilogy is absolutely worth your time and money.
I loved everything about these books – from the enthralling story to the eldritch worldbuilding and amazing characters, and the earnest writing – everything! While I’ve seen a few comments on the relatively slow start to the first book, I was addicted right from the get-go. I adore fantasy stories which skillfully weave the worldbuilding threads into the narrative. In this trilogy, the reader learns in tandem with the primary characters as they tried to uncover the mysteries of the world they live in.
Sarn is a world that has suffered over a millennium of repeated invasions of an alien race termed as the worm people, or Jure’lia. Just as the origins of the Jure’lia remained as an enigma throughout all those centuries, so it was with the once-mighty Eborans, the defenders of Sarn against these invasions. The Eborans are an elf-like race with a much longer lifespan, and greater beauty and strength. But they are all slowly dying from an inexorable disease. Then we have the fell-witches who are ‘cursed’ with the ability to wield highly destructive winnowfire through taking life energy from any living thing around them. Let me assure you that although some of these worldbuilding elements may seem familiar, none of them is remotely derivative as Williams’ applied some serious ingenuity to create a unique setting which is wildly evocative and vibrant.
The story in this trilogy was already riveting from the gradual and surprising revelations of all the unknowns. What made it truly unforgettable and captivating was the wonderfully written characters. Complex, flawed and compelling, Williams lovingly crafted a diverse cast of characters to carry her brilliantly conceived narrative about the importance of connections and memories. Nothing makes me love a book more than having emotional resonance, and this was amplified by the magnitude of how much these characters mattered to me.
I’ve also noticed that Williams tended towards writing mature characters who have been through a lot in life. Firstly, this means that you won’t find typical young adult themes. It also means that most of these individuals have emotional baggage from their past lives before they came together. The kind of character interaction and evolution that arises from bringing such people together – the bonds and relationships that are formed – make for some of the most convincing and engaging characterisations that I’ve ever read. The snarky humour in the dialogue and banter is also pure gold.
“All people need, in my experience, is a little push in the right direction. Or a giant kick up the arse. I am always happy to provide either.”
There is such natural ease and honesty in Williams’ writing that the story and its characters take centre stage. I’ve always appreciated simplicity in writing that conveys what it needs to without bloat or self-indulgence. With the looming world-ending threat at large, no one has time for contemplative philosophies anyway. Speaking of the world-ending threat, the antagonist is remarkably well-written. Gaining insights into the Jure’lia’s motivations behind their extended invasion was most enlightening and also unexpectedly stirring. One can easily imagine that in another story told from a different perspective, these worm people can even be viewed as the protagonist.
The one thing that I’ve yet to mention, however, is the exhilarating action scenes. What would you expect when you have flying war-beasts and giant worm-like ships that shit big bugs. Behold, battle scenes that defy the conventions of either straight-up fantasy or a grand space opera. There is also the ominous reality that our beloved heroes are always outnumbered by the enemy which made all the fight scenes immensely thrilling. That Williams somehow made it all work without seeming ludicrous is yet another notable achievement.
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy hooked me right from the start. It then lured me ever deeper with its bewitching siren song and finally left me in a wreck of emotions. It is very rare for me to rate a trilogy 5-stars across all books, but this one truly deserved all of it. I highly recommend these books to every fantasy fan, especially if you are craving for that spark of originality. Yes, even if you have an aversion to bugs.