Series: Thieves of Fate #1
Publisher: Pyr (November 14, 2017)
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
The Nine is a genre blending work from Tracy Townsend that isn’t afraid to blaze its own trail in fantasy, mixing and matching the most exciting elements from other genres into something new, something all its own. And while 2017 has been a year filled with great fantasy releases, this opening installment of the Thieves of Fate series is among my favorites.
Right out of the gate, it becomes apparent that while the setting of this narrative might seem familiar it is actually an alternate universe. A world which resembles our own in times past but is uniquely different in many, many ways. Foremost among these differences is that this is a place where religion is science and God is worshiped as a being who created the cosmos as the ultimate scientific experiment. The focus of this divine study “The Nine.” Nine beings whom God has chosen at random and whom he observes as they deal with life’s inevitable struggles; their actions to determine the final fate of all of humanity!
But all is not well in this world. For while there are many who are devoted followers of God and attempt to live their lives uprightly as if they are one of the Nine, there are others who have more nefarious purposes. Factions, groups, and individuals who desire and struggle to cause the ultimate experiment to fail, the Nine to cause the destruction of humanity. These people’s focus fixed on a book which thirteen-year-old underworld agent Rowena Downshire has in her possession; a tome which writes itself and might be God’s own observational notebook on the Nine!
Like all works of speculative fiction, The Nine is built around a compelling “hook” to draw you into the story. Here it is the idea of Theosophy, the religion of science. This core concept opening up so many avenues for Townsend to study the human condition, specifically mankind’s religious behaviors, trend toward fundamentalism, and so many individual’s sincere devotion to a creator God. For this narrative plays with the idea of how people would react if they knew there was a God. Understood that the divine was watching, measuring, and ultimately judging their fate like a scientist in a laboratory. How would those truths affect their behavior and their society? All interesting questions to ask and attempt to answer.
Great concept or not, books succeed due to compelling, relatable characters, and the author attempts to give readers a plethora to choose from here. Rowena Downshire is the clear lead, revealed as a stubborn, smart, and fierce youth able to take care of herself in harsh, dark world. Opposite her is the cold, calculating Alchemist who seems sullen but also shows hints of a heart somewhere under his bitter exterior. And, finally, there is Anselm; this cynical and decadent retired mercenary willing to openly proclaim himself a self-serving villain out only for himself. The interaction between these and all the numerous minor characters quite well done; paths crossing, ideas exchanged and plots moved forward even by the most forgettable scenes and by the most minor of characters.
As for the world Rowena and company transverse, it can be best described as a cross between steampunk and gaslamp environment with more than a little flintlock fantasy mix in for good measure. But even with its origins unclear, this is a vividly portrayed place. The seediness of many locations is palpable. Violence abounds. Bitterness and divisiveness grow nearly unchecked. And the three main races of this world are far different and have many long standing problems with one another. Humans showing an innate selfishness which far exceeds their needs. The huge Aigamuxa filled with rage that is easy to understand but difficult to completely justify. And the sentient, walking trees called Lanyani both compelling and hard to warm up to. All of these elements combining to make this a world readers will wish to explore and learn more about.
Even with all those things said, I have to admit that there was one main reason I enjoyed this novel: the mysteries explored. The scenes where certain characters are attempting to decipher the book from God and unravel the universal truths of this cosmos were quite breathtaking. Certainly, the action and adventure expertly interspersed around these more intellectual scenes did help keep my attention riveted to the pages, but the mystery is what kept me turning those pages to find the next nugget of discovery.
All in all, The Nine was a fast, easily digested read which entertained and satisfied — but did not make the mistake of fully satisfying, leaving me thinking about unresolved plots and unrevealed mysteries, waiting in anticipation for all my questions to be answered next time. So with that said, I believe I can call this book a successful debut and leave it at that.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.