Written By: Tracy Townsend
Published by: Prometheus Books
Pages: 364 Pages
Reviewed by Corissa McClay
The Nine is hard to pin down. Fantasy, alternate history, sci-fi, a little bit of detective novel; a great many genres are woven together here. The end result is a fast-paced, riveting story full of distinct and believable characters you can’t help but feel for.
From the first The Nine moves quickly, leaving the reader no time to question the world Townsend crafts. Our main characters are introduced in rapid fire sections, and at an almost dizzying pace. Rowena Downshire, The Alchemist, Reverend Chalmers, and Anselm Meteron are the core of the story, and each one is a delight to spend time with. There’s also a lot of secondary point of view characters aside from these four, and the narrative is constantly jumping back and forth. Often, in large casts like this, if you’re not paying attention it can be easy to get lost, and at times the secondary and tertiary characters did confuse me. But in general the distinct voices of each main character tell you exactly who you’ve landed with. And it doesn’t take long to begin to care about each. Rowena’s youthful hope of saving her mother is just as believable as Meteron’s world weary sense of obligation. The Alchemist’s grudging care for a young girl comes through as clearly as the Reverend’s absent minded pursuit of knowledge. Townsend plays with these contrasts like a master, and it helps keep the story moving quickly and feeling fresh.
The backdrop of an almost steampunk world is built just as skillfully. You won’t find large sections of background bogging the story down. There’s no index or historical asides or chapter openers. Even without those, it doesn’t take long to get a feel for the world; one where science and religion were long ago merged. It’s an interesting idea, and is doled out very naturally as you go along. The concept isn’t deeply fleshed out. If you’re looking for a book with a rich history and extensive worldbuilding, this isn’t it. There’s just enough to support where the story really lies; with the human drama and the mystery our characters get caught up in. The other two races, fierce ape-like aigamuxa and the tree-people known as Lanyani, are left mostly in mystery. For each the reader is given just enough to place them in the story. But even with that little bit their motivations and general character come through clearly, and I can’t wait to find out more in the next book.
This is one more thing that’s hard to pull off. For the first book in a trilogy, The Nine stands well on its own. The set up didn’t feel like the drawn out beginning of a three book series (or more, as the fashion seems to be now). It started fast and kept going. The pace pulls you along at a good clip. Even at over 300 pages it doesn’t take that long to finish. The climax was as exciting as I’d expect from a stand alone, with a good emotional payoff in the end. Yes, there are bits and pieces dangling, left for the next book to pick up and run with. But if I had been told this was a standalone novel I wouldn’t have been disappointed either.
In summary, The Nine is a very human story with just enough fantasy and sci-fi to give it extra flair. If you like your speculative fiction to focus on the people and not heavy worldbuilding, pick this up. If you’re a fan of large casts, genre-mixing, or fast-paced romps, this one’s for you. It’s inventive and edge-of-your-seat and sometimes sweet. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.