The Poison Song by Jen Williams

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Rating 9.5/10
An exceptional finale that exceeded every expectation and which epitomises the kind of inventive, diverse, and emotional fantasy writing the genre really needs.

Book of the Month

All the stars for this. ALL. 

First, a warning. This review is spoiler free for this book, but not The Ninth Rain or The Bitter Twins. Look away now if you haven’t read them. Or better yet, go buy them and come back when you’re done. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

For those that have read the first two of the series, you’ll know that things are looking dire for pretty much everyone. Except maybe the Jure’lia, who are busy varnishing the land and killing as many of its human inhabitants as possible. If you thought their methods were stomach-churningly bad before, just wait. I, for one, don’t like bugs. If someone told me before reading these that I’d love a series focused through the lens of a bug invasion, one that includes spiders no less, I’d have told them not to be so silly. Or more choice words to that effect. Yet there are times here when I even felt a bit sorry for them; their clear lack of understanding about what it is to be human, to be individual but still connected to others through love and friendship, was actually quite affecting. Which is a hell of an achievement. And just one example of the author taking you to an emotional place you weren’t expecting. Especially when their place at top of the baddie food chain is threatened by someone else. On which note I just have to say that if you’re the kind of character making a host of creepy-crawlies set on world domination seem like they might be hard done by, your life has gone seriously wrong somewhere. Anyway, no prizes for guessing who that might be.

There’s a perfect balancing of moments of intimacy and personal reflection with ridiculously thrilling, world-altering battles. I’m talking magic and swords and flying creatures and enough bugs to make you feel itchy all over. The levels of awesome are dialled right up, with my particular favourite, Noon, putting on a proper show. Everyone gets the opportunity to demonstrate the very essence of who they are, in high energy action scenes as much as the smaller ones full of feeling and quiet understanding. Yet at this late stage, there’s still space for characters to grow, for them to better understand themselves even as we come to see them more clearly. So much in this book felt like a revelation, an unfolding of truths that had been hidden just out of sight, but that mean everything to both the characters and the story. It only serves to ramp the tension even higher because if coming to terms with the past allows the possibility of change and a new, more positive future, then the ever present danger threatening to wipe it all out before it’s begun is all the more terrifying, for them and for us. Thankfully, the sense of doom and legitimate possibility of death doesn’t get everyone down. Instead, there’s a kind of ‘are you kidding me with this shit?’ attitude that’s genuinely funny. Though everyone has their own blend of humour, characters like Noon and Vintage have snark down pat, and their eye-rolling irritation is something that feels both modern and yet perfectly apt when you’re dealing with an alien insect invasion on top of every other thing going horribly bloody wrong. I’m sure we’d all act exactly the same way, except perhaps with more screaming. This banter forms part of the author’s clever merging of contemporary, familiar ideas and sentiments with her wildly imaginative and entertaining world. It’s an appealing mix, a place where diverse characters and relationships are so normalised they don’t even feel like a thing, but you can still be ripped to shreds by Wildtouched creatures when you step outside your door.

'This is a very dangerous plan,’ said […] as she passed. ‘I’m not sure you can even call it a plan. It’s more like barefaced cheek.’

‘My darling,’ Vintage shuffled to the edge, the drop beyond the ledge was dizzying, ‘I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.’ 

The characters really are everything, for me at least. Now that doesn’t mean the story isn’t well conceived or exciting or fun or all those other things which it clearly IS, just that I’d probably as happy reading a book of them doing normal stuff. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, a reflection of the kind of life I wish for them now, after they’ve been through so much. After all they’ve put me through to boot. Perhaps we can have a follow up set years in the future when they’re living their mundane lives: shopping, going out for lunch, catching up with old friends at the yearly reunion, talking about the bad old days of the Ninth Rain over drinks. Seriously though, there are characters here that have an immediate impact and some that grow on you, but either way their hold on you is tight enough by the end that putting the book down is hard. (Though that might have had something to do with the death grip I had on my kindle from the stress of the ending…) Anyway… As you’d expect in the final instalment of a trilogy, the conflicts or issues between people, friends or couples or family, move towards some kind of understanding or resolution and it becomes clear that the lucky ones are being offered the potential for a happy ever after. Something you want so badly for them. But these are dark times and there are battles ahead. And you know, even if you don’t want to admit it to yourself, that maybe not everyone is going to make it through…. 

but I’m saying nothing.

An exceptional finale that exceeded every expectation and which epitomises the kind of inventive, diverse, and emotional fantasy writing the genre really needs. Everything about this series is so creative, so vibrant and refreshingly different that it almost needs to come with a caution. Beware reader, this is ground untrodden, an exhilarating yet hazardous journey. Your heart is in danger. You have been warned.

ARC via Netgalley

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All reviews for: The Winnowing Flame Trilogy

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