THE NINTH RAIN by Jen Williams (Book Review)
‘Noon felt her heart begin to beat faster in her chest. The ancient city of Ebora, for centuries largely forbidden to humans, was now passing beneath her feet. Here were the homes of the rich and important; pale marble glinted in the peach fire of the sunset, and she saw pieces of richly carved architecture, cracked or covered in ivy. Once armies had marched from this place and swept down across the plains, massacring her people as they went, drinking their blood and worse, according to the stories. Here she was, flying into this place…’
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams is the first book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy. This was my first novel by Williams, and I dived into it with high expectations, as many friends of mine have expressed much love for her books. I can firmly say I will now be joining other reviewers in singing Jen Williams’ praises too, as this book was simply spectacular. The Ninth Rain skilfully blends fantasy with sci-fi and mystery, it contains a grand Tolkien-esque world, and characters that feel incredibly real and fresh. This is very much high fantasy at the top of its game.￼
The continent of Sarn has suffered from many alien invasions from an enemy known as the Jure’lia, the worm people. The Eboran empire, a once wealthy and prosperous place, for centuries has been the central defence against this formidable foe. Their tree-god, Ygseril, would deliver various war beasts that would aid the valiant Eboran warriors during the battles, and each time the Jure’lia were defeated. However, in the last assault, known as the eighth rain, a final climax between Ygseril and the Jure’lia caused the death of the sacred tree-god. Now, Ebora is in ruin, the race is slowly dying, and Sarn faces the ever terrifying prospect of another invasion, but this time without their defenders.
Have you ever read a book where you love so much about it, you don’t even know where to begin explaining? Where you simply want to endlessly gush? If so, then you’ll know exactly how I feel right now. So, bear with me whilst I try to be coherent, and not keep on repeating,‘I loved this book, now go read it, folks!!’ which basically sums up this entire review.
Where to begin? Okay, let me start by discussing the narrative style and world building, because this was exactly what drew me into the novel. Williams’ writing feels instantly like a classic fantasy; it’s elaborate, sophisticated and richly atmospheric, and I have always found this style comforting to read. So, naturally I became immersed from the outset. For example, throughout the book, almost every chapter begins with an extract from the character Vintage’s journal or private letters. Through these mini preludes the reader is slowly given pieces to the puzzle regarding the history of the Eboran race, the Jure’lia, the Winnowry and Ygseril. We discover, we question and make presumptions, much in the fashion of Vintage. Personally, this style reminded me of an Indiana Jones type of plot, mixed with a Victorian-esque setting and elegant prose and mystery, which I found was similar to Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. I loved the way tension was slowly built up throughout The Ninth Rain and the sense of foreboding. This was fascinating, captivating and truly made the book unputdownable!
Then there was the top-notch world building. As I said before, the world felt as grand in scope as that of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and The Ninth Rain is quintessentially the age-old tale of good vs evil, of a quest to save the world. However, Williams doesn’t allow this novel to become a cliche; instead, she adds her own refreshing take into the mix. For example, the Eboran Empire felt very reminiscent of Rivendell, and the Eborans were akin to the elven race in the Lord of the Rings. There was a significant difference in this book though, as the Eborans became more vampire-like than elf… and if you want to know why, well then you’ll just have to read the book!
The cities and lands within Sarn were full of culture, history, and even detailed the traditions of different races. Williams skilfully includes a diverse and imaginative cast with the inclusion of; Fell Witches that could wield Winnowfire, and ride around on giant bats, parasite spirits, dream walkers, behemoths, and many more. I was continually impressed by how visually striking each scene was, and although there is a lot of details, Williams never allows any of it to become tedious.
I’ve deliberately saved the best until last, because now I’m going to discuss the characters, but fair warning, I’m about to get gushier!
At its heart, The Ninth Rain excels in its wondrous characters. The three main protagonists felt significantly human; they each had flaws, vulnerabilities and complexities. Vintage was perhaps my favourite. Her lust for adventure; to learn all that she could, her obsessions, even though they often blindsided her, they were qualities to admire. Her sweet mannerisms and affectionate phrases, also made her extremely charming. She’s the kind of character that I just wanted as a best friend! Then we meet Fell-Noon, who was heartbreakingly vulnerable. Denied all human touch for most of her life, the mere hint of affection and kindness was something alien to her but something she treasured too. I wanted to hug her so badly. Tormalin, our more aristocratic, lighthearted character, was also a delight to read. His inability to watch his race slowly wither away, catalysts his journey away from Ebora, and consequently Tor grows in leaps and bounds. I could easily see myself bantering with Tor!
‘What a miserable place,’ he said, cheerily enough. ‘Vintage, I do hope you have rented their very best rooms.’
‘Be quiet, Tormalin, my darling, or I will waste one of my precious quarrels ventilating your beautiful throat.’
Lastly, I’d just like to mention how much I would love to see an illustrated edition of this trilogy being published. A few of Vintage’s sketches perhaps would have enhanced the experience greatly, and made it clearer to visualise this unique world.
So, as you can see I pretty much loved everything about this book. After only reading one novel by Jen Williams, I know that’s she’s going to become a favourite author of mine, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this trilogy has to offer!