I have a particular affection for stories centred on fading civilisations and a mystery that must be unravelled in order to avoid some sort of crisis. Ebora was once a glittering power responsible for both horrific atrocities and protecting the wider world of Sarn from the mysterious, bug-like Jure’lia. Now Sarn is under threat from the Jure’lia once again, but Ebora is facing its own destruction, and cannot come to the rescue. Lady de Grazon – Vintage to her friends – along with her Eboran assistant Tor, and fell-witch Noon, are the only ones who will be able to solve the mystery and save the day.
Like The Copper Promise, Jen Williams’ previous work, The Ninth Rain has the feel of a great Dungeons and Dragons adventure, where an odd band of characters come together to deal with a series of problems. Williams is not afraid to knit together all manner of ideas, from traditional fantasy beasts like dragons, to trains run by witches who draw their power from other living creatures. The result is a roller coaster ride through a series of fantasy worlds, which could feel chaotic but works under Williams’ competent hand. Pretty much everything that has ever appeared in a fantasy adventure is here at some point, but the world still feels solidly built, without the sense that the author has relied on human stereotypes to get through.
I particularly enjoyed the depth and complexity of Sarn, which encompasses a host of different peoples and lifestyles. At the core of the world is Ebora, an empire of humanoids who have extended their lives through drinking the sap of a great tree-god. The tree-gods death at the end of the last war with the Jure’lia has triggered the gradual death of the Eborans, leading to war with neighbouring humans as they sought a gruesome solution to the problem. But this is merely background to a complex and gripping story, the kind that you decide you’ll stay up all night to read to the end.
It did take a little effort to get into at first. The chapters hop about from character to character, and I wish I’d been able to see the first interaction that led to Tor’s employment by Vintage. The use of letters and diaries written mostly by Vintage spool out the background to the world very effectively, however, filling in the gaps to avoid reader confusion. I’d have liked more characterisation in dialogue; the spattering of modern swearing sometimes feels out of place, and there’s a moment when it felt like consistency had been sacrificed for the sake of plot. All these are minor complaints though, and this is a really good read for any fantasy fan.