Jen Williams, The Winnowing Flame, Headline.
I do not review incomplete series. I do not read incomplete series. And then, the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards happened.
To give you a more precise picture: since 2017, I had seen a lot of my Twitter correspondents being enthused about The Ninth Rain and I was not so quietly bidding my time. So when The Ninth Rain ended up on our shortlist, I was both relieved I could finally read it and also quite annoyed.
Yes, annoyed. Because now I have to wait for a year before knowing what will happen to those fantastic characters!
Vintage is a middle aged woman, from a landed family, who, one day, left it all behind to become a wandering scholar. Her area of specialty is the Jur'elia, a species who tried to invade their world eight times before. Tormalin accompanies her in her expeditions: an Eboran, he's from a different race than the humans. Long lived, their race has also long been protected by their sacred tree who provided weapons to fight against the Jur'elia. But the tree and the Eborans are dying, and Tormalin lives a life of adventures far from them, with Vintage... Until they meet a witch, and little by little, all of what they thought about the Jur'elia and the Eborans are put into question.
Right, so basically, what's not to like? I honestly could do a bullet point list with all the things I liked and that checked every single thing I wanted to read. But let's try to be a bit more wordy here...
Shall we start with the world building? I loved it. It has everything you want for: a past lost in myths and legends, which actually holds the key to understanding the current world; a band of human religious extremists, you'll hate heartily, who are terrorising women who have the misfortune of being born different; a very expanded world with different world regions which are explored; and ecological shifts.
The world building also walks a very thin line with great balance between technology and magic. The technology may be the humans building a railway, or it may be something yet hidden that will reveal itself as Vintage furthers her understanding. The magic comes from people who are persecuted for it, or it comes from extraordinary creatures, once thought lost.
Shall we go on with the characters? I'm now professing my undying love for Vintage, middle aged scholar and intrepid adventurer. I must confess that I was a bit less interested in the other two main characters, Tormalin and Noon, in the first volume. It's only in The Bitter Twins that, for me, they really came into their own. The secondary characters though all caught my attention and some I ended up really caring for. I enjoyed that The Bitter Twins really give them space and time to shine.
Shall I conclude with the story itself? What I love about Williams' writing is how she throws in (apparently) willy-nilly all these big and déjà-vu concepts and ends up with something unashamedly fun, fast paced, entertaining and truly her own. She did it in The Copper Cat trilogy. She does it again in The Winnowing Flame by mixing up oil and vinegar, with a dash of salt, but mix up they do, and perfectly (the food metaphor may not be the best suited here but one does what one can when trying to avoid spoilers).
Williams' focused and tight writing means you have three main storylines and a couple of minor ones, but you can feel the shape of how they will all interesect towards a conclusion. Far from a sprawling story, The Winnowing Flame, despite spanning continents, epic battles, and mysteries buried in the past, remains very tightly focused.
And incredibly entertaining. Did I mention entertaining already? I should do so one more time.
If you are looking for a fantasy that will blur boundaries, with a hint of Nausicäa of the Valley of the Winds in the beginning (1), fantastic characters that will engage you, and a fast paced adventure, then look no further and join the ever growing club of Jen Williams' readers!
To be noted: this review will be updated after I've read the last volume.
The writer's website.
(1) When I asked Jen Williams about it on Twitter, she was kind enough to reply.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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