Fiction Reviews

The Bitter Twins

(2018) Jen Williams, Headline, £14.99, trdpbk, 614pp, ISBN 978-1-472-23520-6


From Jen Williams, highly-acclaimed author of the Copper Cat trilogy and three-time British Fantasy Award finalist, comes the second novel in the electrifying Winnowing Flame trilogy - the sequel to The Ninth Rain. Epic fantasy for fans of Robin Hobb and Adrian Tchaikovsky who calls this book “absolute phenomenal fantasy.” 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 onetime defenders of Sarn can barely 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. Join the heroes of The Ninth Rain as they battle a terrible evil, the likes of which Sarn has never known.

Well, wham, bam, thank you Ms Williams for an absolutely brilliant sequel to The Ninth Rain. It is not an easy job to maintain the heights of the first book of a trilogy into the second book and set things up nicely for the third and final book in the series, although how could we doubt Williams, who pulled off the trick so well with her 'Copper Cat' series. This is certainly a book that ticks things over for The Poison Song which is going to be the title of book three. We have bigger and bolder world-building, more twists and unexpected turns, lashings of action and continued character development, oh, and the usual knockabout banter, so what’s not to like?

One of the obvious strengths in any Williams’ book is the strong cast of characters, and what a cast we have here: Vintage, Noon, Tormalin, Hestillion, Bern, Aldasair, Eri, Vostok, Kirune, Jessen, Helcate, Celaphon, and Sharrik – names harder to remember than the seven dwarves, but hats off to Williams for coming up with all these different names and very different characters to fit them.

As for the plot, well, this is an epic book, coming in at over 620 pages, and despite having only 56 chapters thus straying into my reluctant reader zone, it is an effortless, compelling read as things haven’t gone as expected – surprise – from the first book. The war beasts have risen, but aren’t exactly much use in their current state of memory loss and internal bickering, so it’s mission and quest time for some of the major characters as they go in search of ancient artefacts to help them out. Not as easy as it sounds, obviously as secrets are waiting to be discovered and there will be revelations aplenty, and action, and horror, and cliff-hangers.

Those who read The Ninth Rain are in for a delicious treat with this sequel, while those new to the series are in for a double-dose of fun if they start back at book one. Simply put, this is one of the best fantasy books from one of the best fantasy writers around. How she is going to top this with The Poison Song, who knows? But I look forward to finding out.

Ian Hunter

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