“The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.
But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall…”
It’s often a tricky thing when an author decides to straddle the line between fantasy and sci-fi, but I think it’s fair to say that this novel is an example of how to do it right. In The Ninth Rain we are first introduced to Ebora, a dying empire that has served as the world’s main defense against the Jure’lia, an ancient and mysterious enemy. The Jure’lia have come in waves many years apart, and each time been driven back – however, during the attack known as the Eighth Rain, victory came at the cost of the Eboran tree god’s life. Without the influence of their god and the sap which extends their lives, his children have fallen into illness and despair. However, the story of the Eborans has since taken an even darker turn, leading to a ruthless and bloody war against their human allies. Now the few who remain are feared and reviled by the rest of the world, and the reasons for this are deftly explained in one of the most chilling prologues I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
The novel is a little slow to get started due to the sheer amount of setup required – this is a vast and complex backstory and so I can certainly forgive the heavy exposition in the early chapters. However, our cast of characters are varied and intriguing enough to make up for it, and once the pieces are in place for our main trio to meet, it’s smooth sailing from there. Our main character is Lady Vincenza “Vintage” de Grazon, a wealthy 40 year old eccentric who shuns her rich, uptight family in favor of exploration and the pursuit of knowledge. By her side is her bodyguard Tormalin, an Eboran who can no longer stand to watch his city and people crumble to ashes. Along the way they meet Fell-Noon, a witch with powers she cannot fully control – she has escaped from a facility designed to both keep her kind out of the world and profit from exploiting them, and their agents are in hot pursuit. Also she rides around on a giant bat, so, you know, that’s pretty awesome too.
Of the trio, Vintage in particular is a refreshing, no-nonsense main character who can cut right through the bullshit and see a situation for what it is (also I would very much like to be her when I grow up, please). Tor is a lovable rogue in a Han Solo, in-it-for-himself sort of way, and Noon’s vulnerability and occasional sass rounds out the group. The dialogue and chemistry between characters is a definite strong point of the novel, and the prose is pleasantly descriptive without getting too flowery. There’s an Indiana Jones meets Aliens vibe to the exploration of the Jure’lian artefacts that really scratched my itch for the “lost civilization” trope while putting a clever twist on it. It is an ambitious story with a truly frightening enemy in the Jure’lia – they are reminiscent of some of my favorite villains: Zombies, The Borg… they’re an eldritch, emotionally blank nightmare who cannot be reasoned with, and their motivations remain unclear.
Above all, my leading feelings about the novel are that it’s wonderful fun, with a diverse and inclusive cast, creepy ass insectoid villains and a plot that keeps the pages turning. While Williams doesn’t shy away from the gruesome, this is action-adventure with a strong sense of hope, even in the face of an overwhelming enemy. I found myself unreasonably furious when I finished that I hadn’t ordered my copy of The Bitter Twins soon enough to start right away. I highly recommend picking it up – it is unfortunate (not to mention baffling) that this series as yet doesn’t have a US publisher, as Williams easily stands shoulder to shoulder with the best and brightest of this generation’s SFF authors. If you’re in the same boat as me and it’s not available in your area, I’d recommend hitting up The Book Depository for a copy, as they ship worldwide for free and so far I’ve found them to be very reliable.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Features a Mountain Setting
- Fewer than 2500 Goodreads Ratings
- Features a God