I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Nine by Tracy Townsend
Series: Thieves of Fate #1
Published by Pyr Books on November 14 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A complex and unique story that delivers on all levels. Simply brilliant!
I was initially drawn to The Nine because of it’s brightly colored cover, but believe me when I say the cover pales in comparison to the story that’s inside. This is one of my best, happiest surprises of the year, and I can’t say enough good things about this book. Tracy Townsend has created a fascinating combination of fantasy elements– including steampunk and flintlock fantasy, with shades of Dickens’ Oliver Twist–that somehow all work brilliantly together. The characters’ voices are firmly planted in the Victorian era and have an unexpected formality which really grew on me, and it was the characters that stole the show and elevated this to one of my favorite books of the year. Add in unique and unusual world-building and an intricate caper story and you have a very special book.
There are a lot of players in this story, however, so readers will need to be patient while Townsend takes her time introducing us to all of them. Rowena Downshire is a thirteen-year-old street urchin/courier who does odd jobs on the streets of Corma for the disreputable and sleazy Ivor Ruenichnya, trying to save enough money to free her mother from debtor’s prison. One day Rowena is tasked with delivering an old book to the Alchemist, a dangerous man believed to have magical powers. But on her way to meet him, she is attacked by a creature called an aigamuxa, who steals the book and nearly kills her. Rowena decides to keep her meeting with the Alchemist anyway, more fearful of what Ivor will say when he finds out she didn’t complete the job.
Meanwhile, the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers receives a packet of secret notes from his associate Nora Pierce, having to do with their research into a theory about the Grand Experiment, which suggests that God has chosen nine people to watch and judge, and the actions of these Nine will determine the fate of humanity. The book that Rowena was supposed to take to the Alchemist is a magical book that writes by itself, and Phillip believes it is the hand of God himself making notations.
But now Nora is missing, and the book has fallen into the hands of the enemy. Even worse, those who know about the book—including Rowena, the Alchemist, and the Alchemist’s former rival Anselm Meteron—are in grave danger. And when Chalmers discovers the identity of one of the Nine, he must protect that information at all costs.
I’ve barely scratched the surface in this short recap, and I haven’t even introduced all the characters! In fact, I read half the book before I figured out who the characters on the cover are (Rowena, the Alchemist and Anselm), because the cast is so large. But don’t let that scare you away. Remember, this is the beginning of a series, and characters who don’t seem to be important right now may have bigger parts to play in the next book. Townsend’s complex plot is well planned, and by the end of the story, even the seemingly unimportant scenes and characters make sense.
In this world, there are three intelligent species who share space: humans, of course; the aigamuxa, huge beasts whose eyes are on the bottoms of their feet (which believe me, makes for some very odd visuals!); and the lanyani, who are basically walking, talking trees. The aigamuxa play a big part in this story, as they are responsible for a lot of the violence, but I also felt sorry for them. The author makes a point about how greedy humans can be when it comes to using the earth’s resources and not being able to coexist peacefully with other species, and the aigamuxa, who started out as slaves to humans, definitely have some strong opinions about this. I was fascinated by the lanyani, although this really isn’t their story. I’m hoping in the next book they will play a larger role (and based on the ending, I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen!).
But the real reason I’ve given this book five stars is because of the characters. Rowena might be my most favorite character ever, I can’t believe how much she grew on me. Townsend has a gift for bringing characters to life, especially the downtrodden ones, and Rowena might only be thirteen years old, but she’s one of the fiercest and most loyal girls I’ve ever come across in literature. Not only has she had to learn street smarts, but her boss Ivor regularly beats her, and more than once during the story she ends up being pummeled by an aigamuxa. Even better, when she meets the Alchemist, their bond becomes one of a father and daughter, something the fatherless Rowena truly needs in her brutal life. When Meteron enters the picture, the three of them form an unlikely family unit that was unusual but heartwarming.
The Alchemist was another of my favorite characters. He’s an older man and he’s been through a lot, but I loved the way that Rowena changes some of his world-weary attitude and gives him a reason to keep living. He also has an interesting power that comes in very handy during the story!
I also loved a girl with the quirky name of Rare Juells, a cat burglar and spy who is Anselm Meteron’s lover. Rare and Meteron have an…interesting relationship, but my first impression of it changed as the story progressed. There are lots of tangled familial relationships among the characters which made the story even more interesting.
The whole idea of the Nine was fascinating, and I loved the way science and religion seem to go hand in hand in this world. The scenes where Chalmers is trying to figure out the mysteries of the book were some of my favorites, and I’m so curious to see what happens in the next book.
There are so many other little details that I don’t have time to mention, and you’ll just have to discover them for yourself. If you haven’t realized by now, I highly recommend this book to any fantasy fan who loves detailed world-building and characterization. Don’t start The Nine if you don’t have time to immerse yourself fully. This book can be challenging at times, but sometimes challenging books can be the most rewarding.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.