THE NINTH RAIN by JEN WILLIAMS
PB, 534 PAGES, Headline
Pre-order The Ninth Rain on Amazon. Released Feb 23rd 2016.
It’s become a bit of an early January tradition round here to beat down the winter blues with a hulking great Jen Williams paperback. There are few finer ways to start the year than with a warm fire, a cuddly dog, a comfy seat on the sofa and 500+ pages of action, sarcasm, drinking and the occasional dragon. What more could you need?
Following on from the barnstorming Copper Cat Trilogy, The Ninth Rain is the opening volume in an entirely new series. The empire of Ebora is fading, her god dead, the last of her people stuck down by a crippling plague, when Tormalin turns his back on his home and sets out on a quest for wine, women, wine, and adventure (and wine). He becomes the hired sword for Lady Vintage de Grazon, a wealthy and eccentric archeologist with a hint of Indiana Jones about her. Vintage is obsessed with the study of the ancient artefacts left behind by the Jure’lia, whose hideous invaders have attacked Sarn and been repelled by the Eborans and their war beasts eight times in the past. But Vintage also has a deep personal reason for her obsession, one she has not revealed to Tor…
They are joined on their quest by Noon, a young fell-witch who has escaped from an institution called the Winnowry, where her powers have been exploited for a decade. Noon will do anything not to be sent back, and she has her own secrets; guilt over a past crime, and fear that her magic could run out of control.
As always, there’s much to enjoy here. It’s no secret that Jen Williams is one of my favourite writers to emerge in recent years and here all the things that make her books enjoyable are on display. It’s grand to see a middle-aged woman taking such an active part in her own adventures – the book is framed by extracts from Vintage’s letters and diaries that add background to her story – and she’s a kind-hearted and generous character who has thrown herself full-heartedly into her quest. Tormalin could be insufferable, as essentially a sexy vampire-elf (no, come BACK!), but he has a core of vulnerability that makes the reader root for him.
And Williams’ depiction of the Winnowry as a prison for “difficult women”, women who don’t fit in, has a deeper resonance at a time when women’s rights are under attack once more in America and elsewhere. It put me in mind of the Magdalene Laundries, or the sundry reasons for locking women in asylums in the 18th and 19th centuries. It made for unsettling reading and put me firmly on Noon’s side.
If you want a read that goes deeper, that has something to say about women and getting old and falling in love and great loss, topped with a layer of sword fights and monsters and explosions (mostly created by Noon), and moments of great poignancy – well, I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but I very much enjoyed this series opener, LOVED the new character who appeared near the end, and urge you to go and pre-order The Ninth Rain straight away. As for me, I’ll be sitting here eagerly twiddling my thumbs and twitching to know what happens next.