2018’s The Bitter Twins is the second volume in Jen Williams’ The Winnowing Flame trilogy.
The Jure’lia have returned to an ill-prepared Sarn. The tree-god who once protected Sarn is near-death. Its war-beast fruit have improperly ripened; they lack ancestral memories. The god-touched Eborans are a vanishing face.
All is not quite hopeless.
The god fell into its long sleep due to a bold try at ending the Jure’lia invasions forever. It failed in its larger purpose but did succeed in badly damaging the aliens in two ways: it shattered their shared mind into a myriad pieces, and it prevented them from retreating to wherever it is they hide between invasions to recover. The Jure’lia may be back but they are far weaker than they once were.
Thanks to captured Eboran Hestillion (who resurrected the Jure’lia queen thinking she was helping her tree-god), the Jure’lia have a new idea: communication. They’re going to try to talk to their food. With Hestillion as their involuntary guest, the invaders take their first steps at talking to others. Persuading the others.
Meanwhile Vintage and her allies do what anyone would do in the face of immanent danger: split up and chase side-quests in the hope that one of the quests will supply the magic bullet that will destroy the Jure’lia. The gang do not succeed in the quest (or if they do, not in a way that’s immediately obvious). What they do succeed at is uncovering some previously unknown truths about their world, the sleeping god, and its history.
It’s not immediately applicable to the problem at hand. It is, however, extremely disquieting.
I enjoyed reading this just for the prose. Jen Williams is an accomplished writer.
Now for a kvetch. The Bitter Twins is 614 pages to The Ninth’s Rain’s 532. I am not sure the extra pages worked in the novel’s favour. Especially when the party splits up, the pacing lagged. Once everyone reunites, the narrative picked up nicely. One wonders if the side-quests could not be recounted in a more succinct way….
Of course, this is the middle volume in a trilogy, which means it has the usual issue middle volumes have: problems aren’t going to be resolved, just kicked down the road. So narrative sag might be expected.
What does work is that the characters learn things about their world. Painful, unsettling things. Problems aren’t resolved; rather, they get much worse. That ramps up the suspense. I’ll be looking for the third volume in the series, The Poison Song , to find out what happens!