The Poison Song by Jen Williams

May 16, 2019

Please note, The Poison Song is the third book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy. If you haven’t read books one and two then what follows will likely contain spoilery type information. Don’t say I didn’t warn you in advance.

All is chaos. All is confusion. The Jure’lia are weak, but the war is far from over.

Ebora was once a glorious city, defended by legendary warriors and celebrated in song. Now refugees from every corner of Sarn seek shelter within its crumbling walls, and the enemy that has poisoned their land won’t lie dormant for long.

The deep-rooted connection that Tormalin, Noon and the scholar Vintage share with their Eboran war-beasts has kept them alive so far. But with Tor distracted, and his sister Hestillion hell-bent on bringing ruthless order to the next Jure’lia attack, the people of Sarn need all the help they can get.

Noon is no stranger to playing with fire and knows just where to recruit a new – and powerful – army. But even she underestimates the epic quest that is to come. It is a journey wrought with pain and sacrifice – a reckoning that will change the face of Sarn forever.

When it comes to trilogies, I think the rules are relatively simple. Book one has to capture a reader’s attention. Book two needs to expand effectively on that initial premise. Characters that have been established previously are given the opportunity to grow, and the overarching plot moves ever forward. It’s book three that I suspect is the trickiest one to accomplish. Readers are onboard by that point; they’ve committed to the experience. The expectations promised in books one and two need to be delivered upon, or an entire series was all for naught. The good news is that Jen Williams is well aware of that fact, and The Poison Song is the perfect ending to The Winnowing Flame trilogy. I can guarantee that those amongst you who, like me, have been captivated from the get go will not be disappointed.

Though Noon, Tor and Vintage remain the undeniable heart of the novel, the rest of the ensemble cast all get their opportunity to shine. The depth of the relationship between Bern and Aldasair is a particular highlight. I’ll even admit to having a huge soft spot for Helcate. How could you not?  To her credit, Jen Williams consistently manages to create truly memorable characters.

There is a subtle bittersweet quality that runs throughout this novel. All the characters, without exception, are broken in some way. Some have been physically hurt, others bear the mental scars of prolonged trauma. The strain of battling against such overwhelming odds is starting to show. These constant high levels of stress affects many of the relationships. From a reader’s perspective you can’t help but get caught up in the drama. The author has taken the care to establish how the main trio of characters, and their extended surrogate family, have come to rely on one another. When they suffer, it feels almost palpable. Even Hestillion (boo!) has demons of her own. I might have felt the odd pang of sympathy here and there, even though she is a thoroughly despicable sort.

Not only is William’s writing adept when it comes to her characters, she also has real skill with the pacing and actions of her books. As this is the final book in the series, all bets are off and there is an unrestrained glee when it comes to action. The battles are tense, bloody affairs. The scope of each encounter gets larger and larger with each passing chapter. This all builds to a final meeting between the two sides at the gates of Ebora which is as definitive as it can get. I loved it all.

I have a sneaking suspicion that from next week, TV land will be looking for a new fantasy novel to adapt for the small screen. Perhaps something with great characters, a cracking story and bucket loads of visceral action? Wait a minute, I’ve just had a really good idea. On an unrelated note, does anyone have HBO’s phone number?

I’m always a little sad when I get to the end of a series I’ve really enjoyed. I take some comfort that in this case the series ended on such a high note. Jen Williams has truly established herself as a modern storyteller well worthy of your attention. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I genuinely hope Vintage makes a return in the future in some form or another.

Sometimes my soundtrack suggestions to accompany a book arrive via some sort of weird cosmic synchronicity. Spotify recently suggested, via their algorithmic wizardry*, that I should listen to the album Dragon by Epic North. I’m sure you’ll be shocked when I tell you an album with that name is the perfect accompaniment to a book that features those very creatures. What are the odds?

The Poison Song is published by Headline and is available now. I recommend this book, and  by extension the entire trilogy, unreservedly. If you enjoyed these novels, and you haven’t already done so, I’d also suggest you give The Copper Cat trilogy a try.

*Ok, I’ll admit it was their “Discover” feature. I just thought algorithmic wizardry sounded cooler.

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