The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
Published: Out Now
RRP: £14.99 Trade Paperback
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 artifacts 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 will fall
Jen Williams debuted in fantasy with the amazing Copper Cat trilogy. A sword and sorcery tale fit for the twenty-first century with humour, scary monsters, diverse casts and three of the most fun and charming characters I’d read in ages. Finding out the next series is set in a different world and has none of those characters always sends a worry that this time the magic I read won’t be there. But I’m very pleased to report that Williams does an equally impressive turn at Epic Fantasy and I think we are looking at a treat in this novel and the ones to come.
One thing that I think sets the story apart from the first trilogy is the sense of scale and depth. The Copper Cat series had a back story but here Wlliams has upped the ante to cover a wider world with action in many places and a great deal of history to it too for both its human and Eboran civilisations. The history of these two races and how they have repelled the Jure’lia over thousands of years is key to the main part of the story. The previous battle (The Eighth Rain) led to the death of their tree God who was responsible for their longevity and with his fall the Eborans realized human blood was an adequate substitute…yes imagine elves turning vampire! Since the fair to say relations broke down and now the Ebrorans themselves are falling to a deadly disease their ability to get support is limited.
A world though really needs to use characters to make these stories come alive and Williams gives us a new set of three leads to follow and be engaged with. Tormalin aka Tor is the Eboran swordsman bodyguard; super strong, breath-takingly handsome and has a nice line in sarcasm but slightly tormented that to stay young and eternally healthy he needs human blood to assist. Fortunately his employer is Vintage – a middle aged wealthy woman with a keen desire to find out everything she can about the Jure’lia and the mysterious sites of their last destruction. These two make a brilliant double act both bickering in the best of ways but also happily saving each other’s lives. Vintage is in no desire to just sit back and follow her family tradition of wine-making she has personally invested herself and her considerable wealth into investigating the Jure’lia and the mysterious lands where they have apparently crashed leaving behind horribly disfigured forests and jungles as well as eerie spirits/parasites who with one touch can split a person apart!
The final member of the trio who adds conflict as new dynamics in the group form is the Fell-witch Noon. In Sarn women with magical ability are tracked down and imprisoned to protect the world from their explosive powers. Noon escapes their island prison but then has to ask herself what next and Vintage immediately sees magic as a potential aid. But it also brings potential dangers…
Hopefully you will get already a sense of just how much is going on in this story but in William’s hands it really soars with multiple plotlines criss-crossing and by the end coming together to explain a lot more about what the aftermath of the Eight Rain has led to and where the rest of the novel will go. But in itself it’s a great tale of the cast coming together and a impressive conclusion explaining many of the book’s mysteries. The reader is never entirely sure where the story is going and that is always a welcome development in any new series
Two small aspects I think also deserve note. Williams adds a touch of genre mixing as we find the Jure’lia appear to travel in ships from off-world. There appears to be a subtle SF hint which I’m fascinated by. Finally it’s done with little fanfare and feels totally natural but the vast majority of the main characters and those in positions of power are women. Nothing feels forced it’s just that these are the competent characters in those positions. It’s a diverse world with sexuality and race making this a totally believable world
Reading the novel from the prison island for the Fell Witches to the various scenes of ancient death and destruction the Jure’lia left behind the reader gets a sense of something interesting and fascinating to see around each corner. It’s not faux medieval it’s a much more interesting world and one moving into more modern times – there is even a developing magic-powered rail road!
Jen Williams has rapidly become one of my favourite authors in Fantasy and I found this a confident and beautifully weighted first part of her new trilogy. It feels fresh, modern and yet has a huge love of fantasy and strange world s to explore (sometimes on back of giant bats). I’m looking forward to seeing where the story takes us in future volumes.