Jen Williams’ sequel to the acclaimed The Ninth Rain, is a strong contender for one of the best follow-ups I’ve ever read. While the first book took the time to lead us on a riotous journey through a world that featured everything from giant flying bats to trains powered by magic, The Bitter Twins has started to explore deeper and more powerful themes.
While Bern and Aldasair and their new war-beasts must try to protect Sarn from the Ninth Rain of the Jure’lia bugs, Noon and Tor continue their awkward not-a-romance as they go hunting for an artist who might remind the war-beasts of their own history. Meanwhile, the Jure’lia queen holds Hestillion captive, and the Eboran who fought so hard for her own people’s survival now finds herself turning into their number one enemy.
This is a fascinating look at the idea of connection, and how alike the various groups turn out to be. While they may seem very different, Williams is exploring the idea of how much these groups have in common. Noon and Tor are hunting for the very origins of the Eboran race, and what they find mirrors much of what happens in the Jure’lia’s corpse moon. It is powerful, exciting material exposing the fragility of creation myths and how they create a false sense of separation between cultures that believe themselves so different.
Williams has created an effective balance between action and insight. We still have the rollicking Lady Vintage, still battling on a flying bat despite breaking an ankle, Noon’s incredible winnowfire and plenty of dragon versus dragon fighting action. But this is tempered with discoveries about the deep history of Ebora, humans and even the Jure’lia that give The Bitter Twins arguably more depth and an added layer of interest for readers.
Hestillion’s capture by the Jure’lia queen adds yet another facet to the story. Rather than giving us a simplistic portrayal of a hideous enemy, we can now see deep inside the corpse moon, at how the queen’s and Hestillion’s relationship is evolving, both clearly influenced by each other. Hestillion must make a difficult choice as a prisoner on the corpse moon, whether she should try to protect Ebora or shift her allegiances for the sake of her own life and future. The corpse moon and the queen will make readers shudder, but that is almost overshadowed by what Noon and Tor discover on the remote island of Origin, where Eboran life supposedly began.
All this has left me desperate to know what Williams plans to do with the third book. This is developing into more than a good-versus-evil fantasy adventure, and we may be headed for a thrilling and thoughtful final book. I for one would love to know if Noon and Tor ever do get over themselves and get together, and how the news of Ebora’s true origins will affect their battle to rescue Sarn from the Jure’lia’s advances.