The Bitter Twins Read-along: week one

The Bitter Twins Read-along

The Jure’lia have returned, determined to consume all life on Sarn – and only a handful of war beasts, a dysfunctional team of would-be heroes and a mostly-dead god-tree stand in their way. But the Jure’lia are weak and their Queen is willing to learn and change – can she be taught compassion or mercy? And is Hest the best person to teach it to her?

Welcome back to the Wyrd and Wonder read-along of Jen Williams’s brilliant epic cross-over SFnal-horror-fantasy The Winnowing Flame. Damn right we’re not waiting until next May to kick on – a Wyrd and Wonder party won’t be constrained by calendars! We’re picking up with The Bitter Twins over the coming month and you’d be right to suspect that at least some of us will be facing The Poison Song before summer’s end.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Time to return to Ebora…

Expect spoilers for The Ninth Rain in questions and discussions from the get-go.

You shall have a war beast and you shall have a war beast and you shall have a war beast! What do you make of the fruits of the Ninth Rain?

They are adorable and I love them. I also love how they reflect their chosen riders: Kirune is as stand-offish and arrogant as Tor, and also has that hint of vulnerability (the scene where he went to the Nest to try and understand who he is had me in pieces); Sharrik charges into every situation powered by helpful good nature (although I think Bern is perhaps cleverer); Jessen and Aldasair are cinnamon rolls too good, too pure, too selfless for war (her dismay at having to hunt, but her determination to hunt); and Helcate is as quiet as poor, lost Eri.

…makes you wonder how Celaphon will turn out, doesn’t it?

I can’t help but think of Temeraire in the way the war beasts choose their moment – almost as if they wait to hatch until the right rider is near (which also begs a few questions about Celaphon, I suppose; he didn’t exactly choose to come out of his shell).

…and what’s your take on Vostok’s damning assessment of our heroes after the inglorious battle of Coldreef?

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Of course Vostok has her memories, so she can see how different things could be if they worked as a team. And I can’t really defend Kirune’s preference to eat the Jure’lian dead than get on with fighting the living; or Sharrik’s blithe lack of awareness of what’s going on around him.

But it takes a certain discipline to leave people to die while you focus on the Behemoth: I get that it’s the right thing to do, strategically speaking, but… well, it’s cold-blooded, isn’t it? So it’s hard to fault Aldasair and Jessen for trying to save children instead.

We learn a lot more about the Jure’lia this week – both as invading enemies and from their own peculiar perspective. What do you think about the worm people and their Queen now you’ve seen them in action?

I am so curious about the Jure’lia and their Queen. It’s clear they don’t really have any autonomy, but I don’t think they’re a hive mind. There’s a definite difference between speaking to the Queen and speaking to a homunculus, at least.

You can see the Queen finds dealing with Hest something of an intellectual challenge: they have almost no shared frame of reference, and frankly I can’t imagine the Queen interpreting any of Hest’s demands in a way that causes less devastation or trauma (and I don’t think her newly created giant creatures are going to descend on the next town to give them a hug). So I’m not particularly comforted by the Queen’s interest in communication and change. I think she just wants to find more efficient ways of winning the war once and for all.

On the other hand, she tells us so much (…without necessarily telling us anything at all)! The Jure’lia have different forms for different purposes, apparently – and Sarn has only ever seen their harvesting form. It all gets a bit Pacific Rim at this point, with the suggestion that their eventual victory would result in terraforming to better suit their young. Are the worlds within the crystals the worlds they have conquered in the past? What does she mean when she says the crystals are memories that weaves the Jure’lia into one?

…I have so many questions. In fact, I’ve got more questions this time than last read!

I’m skipping the question on Hest for now, as I suspect I’ll be talking about her a lot in future weeks.

We see more Eborans too – from the horrors they inflicted during the Carrion Wars to the devastating impact of the Crimson Flux. How sympathetic are you to Ebora and its people (dead and alive)? 

I found myself thinking about Ebora quite a lot this week. The tragedy is so complete, yet so self-inflicted – and so thoroughly founded in unforgivable behaviour.

Remembering characters like the dying general in The Ninth Rain, I have no sympathy at all: he represented privilege and exceptionalism – an Ebora that believed in their inalienable right to health and immortality, over and above anyone else’s rights to keep breathing. He didn’t see humans as people or equals (and in passing, isn’t it interesting that the Queen calls Hest human, OH HALLO TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE PAST LADY). It’s not hard to draw parallels to our own times and those people who dehumanise people of other genders, sexual inclinations, religion, nationality and so on, and it just makes me angry. I find it hard not to say these Eborans didn’t deserve the Crimson Flux for their terrible, selfish choices.

…but that’s not all Eborans, is it? All the dead Eboran children whose parents fed them blood to make them strong and healthy. Poor, lonely, traumatised Eri, raised in strict isolation (…although it wasn’t contagious, was it? So this was never necessary – unless his parents were worried that young Eri would get fed blood on a play date at a friend’s house, or rebellious teen Eri would be tempted to try blood, or something). Tor, who takes blood consensually and gives pleasure in return. Suddenly we’re back in a context of blood-borne disease vectors and the horror of watching everyone you love die, and my sympathy sky rockets.

Similarly, I have nothing but feels and the wish to hug Nanthema, Eri and Aldasair – and by extension Hest and Tor – for the trauma of surviving the apocalypse. It’s hardly surprising that none of them are exactly well-adjusted social beings, is it? And I love how it has shaped each of them differently, depending on their nature and whether they stayed (and oh, poor Nan’s barely-suppressed guilt for leaving).

Still, every detail we hear about the Carrion Wars makes my blood run cold. No wonder Noon was initially so hostile. The miracle is that Hest was able to summon anyone to Ebora’s aid at all.


This is a free-form read-along – we’re reading companionably along to an outline schedule. You’re very welcome to join us – just grab the book and join us in the comments or on Twitter to share your thoughts.

  • Lisa of Dear Geek Place
  • Vinjii of Books in Blankets
  • Annemieke of A Dance with Books
  • Mayri the Book Forager

Discussion Schedule

You are welcome to read at your own pace, but please be mindful of the schedule when leaving comments to avoid spoilers for your co-readers…

  • Sunday 23rd June | Beginning through end Chapter Twelve
  • Sunday 30th June | Chapter Thirteen – Twenty-two
  • Sunday 7th July | Chapter Twenty-three – Thirty-four
  • Sunday 14th July | Chapter Thirty-five – Forty-six
  • Sunday 21st July | Chapter Forty-seven through the end

Prompts typically posted on the Goodreads group by Friday each week – if anyone else fancies taking the questions one week, I’m happy to share!

I’ll be blogging weekly because I can’t resist a good flail, but there’s no obligation to do so (and as you can see this week, I won’t necessarily answer every prompt).