Title: The Ninth Rain
Author: Jen Williams
Published: 23 February 2017
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 an 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 artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.
But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapses, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall…
The Ninth Rain is the assured and striking first book in a new swords and sorcery trilogy from the author who brought us the Copper Cat trilogy. As a huge fan of the Copper Cat books, I was incredibly excited for The Ninth Rain, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I struggled to form a coherent review just to say how much I loved it, but I had a go anyway.
The story begins in the once great but now dying city of Ebora, its people victim to a sickness called the crimson flux and its tree-god Ygseril dead. It’s a wonderful opening, with some beautiful imagery bringing the silent city and its deserted streets to life in a way which is reminiscent of the heartbreaking yet somehow enchanting pictures of abandoned ruins found online. A slowly decaying shell of the majesty it once was, Ebora is haunted by Tor’s increasingly unstable sister Hestillion. Obsessed with restoring Ygseril after his death at the end of the last war with the monstrous Jure’lia, known as the Eighth Rain, Hestillion will stop at nothing to find a way back to Ebora’s glory days.
Tor, while understandably being a bit given to brooding, isn’t really one to resign himself to his fate. He decides to leave Ebora and make the most of whatever is left of his life outside its walls before he, too, succumbs to the flux. He ends up employed by Lady Vintage de Grazon to act as hired blade and muscle, and to be the foil for her rather barbed wit when he starts to take himself a bit too seriously. The banter between him and Vintage is a glorious thing to behold and gives a sense of a very real friendship between people who may casually insult one another, but equally are ready to fight and risk their lives for each other too.
Vintage herself is one of those characters who leaps straight off the page and into your heart; she’s introduced via extracts from her journals and letters, which not only serve as a clever way of giving us information about the world but insights into her character. Explorer, scholar and scientist with an excellent line in sarcasm and a field absolutely barren of bothers, Vintage is a marvellous creation and a character on whom I formed an instantaneous crush. It’s incredibly refreshing to have a mature woman in her 40s as a main character in a fantasy novel; and in a world where diversity and representation is increasingly important, it’s utterly fabulous that she also happens to be a woman of colour and a lesbian. Vintage and Tor soon are joined by Noon, a witch on the run from a religious prison, where she was regularly drained of her powers and denounced as unclean. Brave and strong if sheltered and naive, Vintage immediately takes Noon under her very capable wing.
Together they travel Sarn so that Vintage can continue her research into the mysterious Jure’lia, who regularly appear seemingly out of nowhere to wage war and generally wreak carnage in some spectacular and inventively nasty ways. Previously the Jure’lia had always been defeated by Ebora, but, conscious that Sarn cannot expect help from Ygseril again and with rumours of the ancient evil resurfacing plaguing the land, Vintage is conscious that answers are needed and time to find them is running out.
Sarn itself is as richly realised as Ebora. All form of life is found here from the bleak shores of the Winnowry where Noon was kept to bustling city of Mushenska to the long grass of the plains, all of it infected with the touch of what is known as the Wild. Where the Jure’lia have been, destruction and monsters are left behind, the very flora and fauna of the land corrupted . Different cultures and belief systems are also touched on and explored through our protagonists’ experiences and research; here is a fantasy world which is every bit as diverse as our own.
There’s a growing sense of tension and doom as our unlikely heroes must keep a step ahead of Noon’s pursuers and battle monsters in an attempt to find something which will help them win the next war, which seems as inevitable as the seasons. A must-read for fantasy fans, The Ninth Rain hurtles towards an ending which is sure to leave readers wanting more, immediately, if not sooner.
GS rating: 5/5
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)