Book Review: The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
The Good: A trinity of truly memorable PoV characters, an enemy host that isn’t just another orc variant, a fresh take on a ‘big bad’, and a plot that pulls the rug from beneath you when you think you’ve found your feet.
The Bad: I. Have. Nothing. Bad. To. Say. About. This. Book. Deal with it. (Except for the fact this is a Jen Williams book without Wydrin the Copper Cat and I now want more Copper Cat books. Damn it!)
The Ugly Truth: The Ninth Rain is one of my FAVOURITE epic fantasies. It feels familiar in so many ways – like putting on your favourite hoodie, or trainers, but at the same time it feels different, it feels new and exciting. It takes all the old favourite conventions and tropes, and changes them, for the better. This is epic fantasy. This is how it should be done.
Review: ‘They don’t make them like they used to’. These words go hand in hand with a tendency for people to proclaim that ‘XYZ book’ is the next Tolkien, Le Guin, Howard, Stoker etc. This is especially true with anything considered a ‘Classic’. I’m not overly keen on this type of association, firstly because I like to think that every story is different, and secondly because a book has an author’s name on it so why add other names to it when it’s not their book? Which is why I find myself reticent to say that ‘the Ninth Rain is the 21st century Lord of the Rings’, which, in my honest opinion, it is.
And it’s not.
It’s MORE than that.
To better understand why I think this, let me explain a little about the book.
Every few hundred years the Jure’lia (aka Worm People) attempt to invade and conquer the world of Sarn, but they are driven back by the immortal Eborans, and their mighty warbeasts, which are grown on the branches of their tree god Ygseril. Following the last invasion, Ygseril began to wither, and as his presence faded, so too did his power, and the Eborans themselves. The Eborans succumbed to a disease known as the crimson flux, and despite all attempts to stave it off, including drinking human blood, the once noble and mighty immortal race has began to die off.
And so begins our tale…
What comes next is told by three distinct PoV characters – Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ De Grazon, explorer, architect, and wine connoisseur who has made it her mission to uncover the secrets of the Jure’lia; Tormalin the Oathless, an Eboran who has turned his back on his dying people so that he might live what little life he has left before death claims his once immortal being; and Fell Noon, a fell witch with the ability to drain life force and use it to wield winnowfire, which is as every bit as awesome as it sounds.
I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite amongst these three, though I think Vintage creeps ahead by a margin. She’s unlike any character I have ever read. In a way she reminds me of the twitter threads I’ve seen claiming ‘what’s the most bizarre hero/ine you’d like to read?’ only for someone to pull out the ‘granny with knitting needles’ card. She isn’t this whatsoever, but the reason she reminds me of this thread is because Vintage is entirely plausible, real, and oh so damned amazing I bet writers who read the Ninth Rain end up pulling their hair out asking themselves ‘why didn’t I think of a character like this?’
Whilst a lot of the plot might seem like standard epic fantasy – a big bad, a world ending threat that our plucky band of heroes must overcome, swords and sorcery but with more bang and book (pagecount) for your buck – it isn’t standard. It’s EPIC. As in EPIC fantasy (yes, full caps. Again, deal with it).
At first, what might seem like a slow burn is Williams’ setting the stage. Dimming the lights, pouring you a nice glass of Vintage’s best wine, lighting a candle with winnowfire, and having Tormalin provide a turndown service worthy of Ebora (where I have to add they have been known to study the art of the hubba hubba). Once you’re settled in and relaxed, she whips the rug out from underneath you, bundles you into it, cracks you over the head with the bottle of wine, sets you on fire with the candle, and then turns you out on your ass in the cold where you realise The Ninth Rain ISN’T going to turn out how you thought it was going to.
It turns out better.
Yes, I will admit that I saw some of the plot coming, but this is intentional, because when the real twists come, boy oh boy, do they come out swinging. This starts steady, building to a page turner, but before you know it, you’ll have burned through the final third of the book and find yourself screaming: ‘What? You can’t leave me like this? Wiiillllllliiiams!’
The Ninth Rain has also got elements of Indiana Jones, and for me at least, a gender-swap of the original Star Wars trio of Luke/Leia/Han (this is my own personal comparison and would be genuinely interested to hear if anyone else has similar notions). To me the Ninth Rain also has a much deeper message on growing old, love and life and loss, and the treatment of women, all of which are ever increasingly important to consider in today’s modern world.
To me, this book is all of those things – all of those comparisons. To me ‘the Ninth Rain is the 21st century Lord of the Rings’.
And it isn’t.
There is only one thing quite like it. And that is itself.
This is The Ninth Rain.