The Bitter Twins by Jen Wlliams

Puclisher - Headline

Published - Out Now

Price - £14.99 trade paperback

I thank the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

The Ninth Rain has fallen. The Jure’lia are awake. Nothing can be the same again.

Tormalin the Oathless and the fell-witch Noon have their work cut out rallying the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for three centuries. But these are not the great winged warriors of old. Hatched too soon and with no memory of their past incarnations, these one-time defenders of Sarn can hardly stop bickering, let alone face an ancient enemy who grow stronger each day.

The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists – a distant island, mysteriously connected to the fate of two legendary Eborans who disappeared long ago.

But finding it will mean a perilous journey in a time of war, while new monsters lie in wait for those left behind.

Last year I was really impressed with the start of this epic fantasy series from Jen Williams. Continuing the trend for delivering excellent casts of (largely female) characters, great dialogue and fast paced action with a pleasing mix of SF within a standard fantasy world with the return of the off world Jure’lia and setting up a battle between magical beasts and spaceships. Now the second part of the Winnowing Flame Trilogy asks the question what happens next?

So, the action bursts from the start with a group of the insect like Jure’lia launching their many different components mercilessly on a village to be stopped partially by our heroes who have started to bond with the war-beasts including a feather dragon and a flying giant cat. It’s not a simple battle even though the Jure’lia are weak from being asleep and injured for many centuries. The war-beasts while strong largely don’t have the skills and honed ability they usually have upon erupting from their eggs and their choice of riders isn’t going smoothly easily either. They’re not a team and this can mean lives are lost. So eventually Tormalin and Noon are sent on a mission to try and find out if there is a way to find the war-beasts lost memories while back in Ebora the remainder of the team are themselves split between assisting a village in need and trying to guard the remaining treasures and war beast eggs within the palace.

As always with Williams the characters are a highlight. We have the new war beasts making an impact from Vostok the Dragon who remembers the old times and believes they are the one who should be in charge to the more independent large cat Kirune who is not entirely pleased he must bond with Tor. Each have their own personality and either complement or antagonise their host. This is a novel where we see relationships build or even burn from Tor and Noon’s uneasy romance to Vintage finding that her returned Eboran lover Nanthema is not quite the woman she remembers and also a reminder that she too is no longer the young woman they last were too and then finally the blossoming relationship between Bern the warrior and Alasdair the seemingly absent minded Eboran slowly coming back to the world he has been hiding from. The emotional interplay between these characters is what really propels the story and you’ll be invested into how they continue to change, and can they survive.

This time the book is also keen to explore the history of Sarn including the relationship between the Eborans and the Jure’lia. Tor and Noon’s journey takes them to meet ancient legends of Ebora and find a sinister side hiding in paradise. On the Jure’lia’s main ship Tor’s sister Hestillion is debating whether she made the right choices while she too now has a rather weak War Beast Celaphon to look after. This allows her to watch how the Jure’lian Queen works and she finds they are cooking up even worse monsters to bring about the end of the world.  Further battles commence and this time not everyone can survive…

There is a sense of many ancient factions now colliding and going to be settled once and for all. The one issue with the tale is that it has set up what looks like a truly epic final volume to come but you are conscious that is the middle volume and doesn’t always feel like a complete adventure but ultimately that is a key part of epic fantasy trilogies. But I suspect most readers will be more than familiar with William’s ability to deliver great characters, progressive societies and interesting world so if we must read another book to understand the bigger picture I don’t consider that a hardship!!  Overall, another strong entry from one of our most interesting British fantasy authors and by the way did I mention it still has giant bats?