High fantasy (or epic fantasy) and science fiction — these two genres are not well-populated by female authors. Or it seems like it because I’m sure it’s not for lack of trying. Most of the fantasy I read nowadays fall under the young adult/new adult bracket, and I find most lack the complexity of a typical high fantasy/science fiction novel. I can barely name authors that are not of the Robin Hobb/Ursula Le Guin/Tamora Pierce/Margaret Atwood variety — Becky Chambers is the only one that comes to my mind. I am probably speaking from the point of ignorance as I don’t delve that much into the genre, but I’m sure it is also not incorrect to say it is very hard to break through and be a household name in the genre if you’re female.
So when I saw The Ninth Rain at the Headline Bloggers’ Night I immediately grabbed and latched on to a copy of it! The author, Jen Williams, was unfortunately unable to be present at the event so I didn’t get speak to her (I honestly wouldn’t know what to say anyway; I get tongue-tied with authors!). I admit that I haven’t heard of this book prior to seeing it there, so I only had the blurb at the back — see below — to figure out what it was about.
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind.
But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. For the Jure’lia are coming, and the Ninth Rain must fall…
Now if you don’t find that capturing your interest, let me give you a lovely list (everyone loves lists nowadays), in no particular order, as to why you should be reading this book, especially if you’re a fantasy/sci-fi fan!
- If you solely read fantasy books, this is a good one to introduce you to science fiction. I’ve recently been reading a lot of fantasy books and I’ve forgotten that it can blend well with science fiction. If you don’t think a full-on science fiction book is for you, maybe you’d like to get a taste of it with this book.
- I mentioned earlier about complex world-building in high fantasy. Some people prefer very intricate, really specific details, but others find that tedious. I found The Ninth Rain to have a good balance. It is a well-defined world, very much something I’d expect from a high fantasy novel, but it does not go on about itty bitty details that bore some (or most?) people to tears.
- Lady Vincenza de Grazon a.k.a. Vintage is one of the major characters in the book, and the woman is forty-five years old. How often do you see that in fantasy books?! On top of that, she’s the head of the family, owns and runs a vineyard capably, wields a crossbow competently, and did I mention she has what is described in the book as ‘deep brown skin’ and a mass of ‘tightly curled hair’. The woman is posh and is a badass. I couldn’t get enough of her!
- Aside from Vintage, there is another female main character: Noon is a fell-witch — a witch capable of producing fire that cannot be doused with plain water (it has to be exceptionally cold) and they do this by absorbing energy from any thing that is alive. Noon has some ‘issues’ all related to backstory that I will not mention lest I spoil you, but suffice to say she is an independent thinker. Most of all, I nearly whooped with joy when I read that she has tawny skin. Tawny, as in yellowish-brown. Early on the book, she is described as having olive skin, which made me roll my eyes at the standard description (not again!) but later on it was described as tawny. A character that is somewhat alike to my skin colour!!! And she is very central to the story! I cannot describe how absolutely elated I am about it!
- The blurb mentions Tormalin, who he is your standard hero — good-looking, graceful, strong, with a beautiful sword to boot. He is also (practically) immortal. Most fantasy books are written in a way where you as a reader will want to desire this character and fall in love with him — not with The Ninth Rain. Sure, you may still love him, but more because he is so funny when he whines and Vintage tells him off for his ridiculousness. He knows he’s attractive but the author writes it in a way where it seems she is nudging you, showing you how amusingly absurd he is, like a puppy acting like he’s an adult dog. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of all these beautiful-as-a-marble-statue men, and it was refreshing not to read about one!
- The Ninth Rain is full of tropes written in a different and clever way. The drop-dead gorgeous man? He’s the source of comedy. Immortals living off human blood but dying as well because of it? Yes, sounds like vampires, although they’re not called as such in this book. The threat of zombies and zombie-infestation? They’re present too, but not the usual plot line that involves a virus or what not. It was all so brilliantly done; I have to raise a glass (of wine, not mead — sorry, Jen) to how skillfully it was done.
- I know I’ve already mentioned two female characters, but do you know what? There’s more! The big baddie is female, the best Eboran is not Tormalin but his sister (at least in terms of dream-walking; Tormalin would like to think he’s the best in the art of seduction), the leader of a cult is a woman…I could go on and on. This book is filled with women with agency and influence. Again, how often do you see that in SFF?
- There is representation of non-heterosexual relationships. Vintage is madly in love with a woman. A male character appears to be forming a very close friendship with another male that I am assuming may turn out to be more than that. If that isn’t your thing, there’s heterosexual relationships as well, but it’s nice to see it mirroring what the real world is like, isn’t it?
- There are issues that contemporary women face which are represented in the book. Women pitted against women, women being thought of as a vessel of sin, as “cracks through which sin seeps into the world” that corrupts the innocent (and the innocents in the book are males who get attracted to them). I was impressed to see it in a fantasy book — a genre where people do not seem to think much of as anything other than escapism.
That’s quite a long read, isn’t it? You may be thinking now that I’m only saying all this because I got the book for free. Psh. I’m nothing but honest — I’ll admit I found my attention waning while reading the book. At 532 pages, it is a bloody long book. It is an art, trying to keep the tension strung just tight enough to keep a reader’s attention, and I found The Ninth Rain falling a bit loose at some parts. I’d like to say for certain that some parts should’ve been edited out but this book is part of a series, and it’s hard to tell which ones are the puzzle pieces that will slot in to future plot points that will make a reader go, “aha!” when I don’t have the rest to judge it with.
So story-wise, because it was so long, I’d give that a three, but it has such amazing female characters, so I’m upping that to four!
see ratings explanation
“Any institution that claims to keep women locked up for their own good should be watched very closely, in my opinion.”
– Jen Williams, The Ninth Rain
Let’s have a chat!
Does this book sounds like something you’d pick up? Who is your favourite female fantasy author that isn’t J.K. Rowling? What’s your favourite book that they have written?