Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend
***Don’t forget to check out the details on our INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY of The Nine!***
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Thieves of Fate
Publisher: Pyr (November 14, 2017)
Length: 400 pages
I love reading fantasy, I love reading science fiction, and occasionally I’ll even be in the mood for a bit of both at once. Is it any wonder then that The Nine hooked me on page one? Defying genre traditions and labels, Tracy Townsend’s debut is a fresh and bold novel that marches to the beat of its own drum, delighting me at every turn. By blending together a number of speculative elements, the author has created something that’s altogether different and new.
Taking place in an alternate universe in which science has become a religion and God is seen as the great Experimenter, The Nine involves a magical self-scribing book which lists the nine people whose actions will determine the fate of world. It’s the mother of all experiments, and needless to say, there are various factions who will go to great lengths to affects its outcome. Caught up in this epic struggle is a thirteen-year-old girl named Rowena Downshire, who works as a black market courier in the hopes of one day freeing her mother from debtor’s prison. One day, her employer Ivor tasks her to deliver a mysterious package to the most feared man in the city—a man only known as the Alchemist, who is said to possess dangerous magical abilities. En route, however, Rowena is attacked and robbed by something called an Aigamuxa, which are giant beast-like creatures whose eyes are on the soles of their feet. Afraid to return to the short-tempered and abusive Ivor with news that she has lost the package, Rowena decides to take her chances with the Alchemist instead, continuing on to her destination in order to let the recipient know what has happened.
But to Rowena’s surprise, the Alchemist does not immediately smite her on the spot. Instead, he provides her with safety, food, and shelter, informing her that anyone who has had contact with the contents of that stolen package is now in grave danger. Meanwhile, as proof of this pronouncement, the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers wakes up battered and trussed up in a cell, facing his monstrous kidnapper. The creature has a book for him to translate, and doing what his captors want may be his only chance of survival. Already, a colleague of his has gone missing because of what she has uncovered, and Chalmers has reasons to fear the worst.
For a novel with so many characters and interlacing plot lines, The Nine is surprisingly well put together and tightly paced. Townsend also balances her storytelling with outstanding character development and layered world-building, with the mythos creation being especially impressive. The subjects of religion and science are explored in a way I’ve never seen before, opening up plenty of opportunities for reader engagement, considering the vast number of possibilities for the direction of this series. Almost immediately, the setting feels at once familiar but also strange and exotic enough to be a full-fledged secondary world with all the escapist potential a fantasy fan could ask for. I loved the idea of all life and creation being seen as the ultimate experiment, with God being worshipped as the great Experimenter who is constantly assessing, adjusting, and applying the appropriate interventions based on the observations of how nine randomly chosen human beings live their lives. What a mind-bending concept!
As well, the world is populated with intelligent beings other than humans, such as the aforementioned Aigamuxa, and there is also a race of sentient walking tree creatures called the Lanyani (though their diet is far from plant-like). These three groups exist in a state of tension, with some of their past history and conflicts touched upon in the main story line. Furthermore, it’s clear that Townsend has a knack for world-building, weaving different genres through her narrative so that the setting has this cool mish-mash of steampunk and historical fiction influences.
That said, it’s the characters who steal the show here. Realistically portrayed and nuanced, they provide readers with the opportunity to experience the full story, the multiple perspectives allowing us to see things from all angles. Rowena is one of our main protagonists, and she is a clever, brave, and determined girl. The people around her are also complex, as there are no simple black-and-white characters here. Rowena quickly learns not to trust anything at face value, realizing that everyone has a story to tell. I especially enjoyed her early interactions with the Alchemist, as we discover along with Rowena just how wrongly the old man has been perceived by the rest of the city. Then there’s Anselm Meteron, a former mercenary who now feels entitled to a retirement of indulgent access after all that he’s been through. While there are many characters, these three stand out as our central figures. The trio of them make for an interesting group of allies, but the result is some fantastic dialogue and quality interactions.
All in all, The Nine was a delightful read, its exquisitely dark and twisted plotline packed with genuine surprises. As much as I’ve written here, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what this terrific novel has to offer. Tracy Townsend has written a dazzling debut which positively crackles with imagination and enigmatic charm. If you’re looking for a clever and magnificently crafted genre-bending fantasy, I wholeheartedly recommend this superb opening volume to the Thieves of Fate series. And believe me when I say I can hardly wait to see what happens next.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Guest Post by Tracy Townsed: “How to Identify Genre in Four Easy Steps (And Why it Doesn’t Matter, Anyway)