There has been much excitement amongst the book-blogging community about this one, as Jen Williams has become a solid favourite among epic fantasy fans with her unique blend of clever pacing, vivid characters and the sheer energy of her writing. But what had everyone waiting for this one was that twist at the end of The Ninth Rain – see my review here – that turned this into a genre mash-up.
The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever. Tormalin the Oathless and the Fell-Witch Noon have their hands full dealing with the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for nearly three hundred years. But these are not the great mythological warriors of old; hatched too early and with no link to their past lives, the war-beasts have no memory of the many battles they have fought and won, and no concept of how they can possibly do it again. The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists, but finding it will mean a dangerous journey at a time of war…
For starters, if you’ve picked this one up without having first read The Ninth Rain, then put it right back down again and rush off to get hold of the aforesaid first book in the series. It took me a while to get into this one, because I don’t reread books and as The Bitter Twins picks up more or less where The Ninth Rain left off, I was frankly floundering. If I hadn’t read the first book in this series, I think it would have taken me far too long to sort out who was doing what to whom to fully appreciate the writing and the story.
However, once I was back in the groove – this one was a joy. The characters are nuanced and three-dimensional, so that our gutsy heroes and heroines have flaws and weaknesses, and even characters we have written off as wrong ‘uns are capable of selfless acts. I loved the storyline regarding the origins of the Eborans, which worked really well and nicely mirrored what is happening on the Corpse Moon where unsettling transformations are taking place.
One of the recurrent themes within the epic fantasy genre is the role of history and how it defines people’s own identity within their culture and race. Williams treatment of this theme in this series is an interesting one, overlaid as it is by the insertion of another genre and how that both plays with and subverts the idea of cultural identity, particularly by the Eborans, who are teetering on the verge of extinction. As the inferior race, the human protagonists within the story have their own baggage and, in some cases, scores to settle. My favourite character is Vintage, the delightful human scholar whose insatiable curiosity has hauled her right into the middle of the current mess.
I don’t want you to go away with the idea, however, that this book spends pages discussing or worrying about the above, as it’s all about the adventure and such considerations are fully embedded within the plot. Events are moving fast, threats abound, and our intrepid band of protagonists are constantly having to react to yet another sticky situation. The pages flew by as I found it hard to break off and get on with the growing stack of chores – so I didn’t. After all, this was a Jen Williams read – which means it’s something special. While I obtained an arc of The Bitter Twins from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.