The Bitter Twins Read-along: week three

The Bitter Twins Read-along

Our allies are separated. Alone in Ebora, Vintage faces difficult truths. Even more isolated aboard the Behemoth, Hest is desperate as Celaphon to forge a connection. Noon and Tor find Origin, but the mysterious island poses more riddles than it provides answers. Aldasair goes home with Bern, but idyllic Finneral is the Jure’lian Queen’s next target… and she has plans for Hest.

The central act of The Bitter Twins gives us a more fragmented narrative as everyone has headed off in different directions. It means some characters get more page time than others this week – Vintage is short-changed, in particular, as she is left minding Ebora while events elsewhere progress the war.

But what a week in terms of developments! Spoilers ahoy – time to talk about week three…

What do you think the Jure’lian Queen is trying to achieve with Hest and Celaphon? 

I’m finding the Queen’s interest in Hest and Celaphon even more intriguing on a reread. How deeply I read first time around varies – especially when I get sucked into a rollercoaster plot – so it’s lovely to come back to linger.

The Queen’s decision to adopt an Eboran and her warbeast is the oddest strategy on the face of it: bringing an age-old enemy into her Behemoth, sharing truths (I won’t say secrets; they’re not deliberately guarded, it’s just that the Jure’lia have never bothered talking to their food before), and encouraging them to learn to fight. I can’t tell if she intends to subvert Hest, or if the whole arrangement is a whim and a diverting entertainment.

How much of the Queen’s choices are rooted in Hest walking her dreams while she was imprisoned? Has Hest had more influence than she realises? I’m not sure about that either…

…speaking of Hest. We Need To Talk About Hest.


Still, I make no apology for it: Hest is one of my favourite characters. She shouldn’t be. She should enrage me. She’s a terrible person. Yet Jen Williams gives her such unexpected developments and terrible choices. She has been by turns a cold-eyed child murderer; a lonely, willowy figure wafting around a palace; a relentlessly driven dreamwalker; a selfish prisoner, hatching an immature warbeast to provide her with company (or hope); and now she is emerging from her Jure’lian chrysalis a fierce warrior princess on the wrong bloody side.

I cannot defend her choices. I cannot get on board with her attacking Aldasair and Bern (although I’m the tiniest bit proud that she has become a warrior princess, THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING, HEST). I dread to think what she will do next. I have no idea what she will do next.

And I love that she surprises me. I love that I yell NO quite as loudly as I do. I love that my heart aches just the tiniest little bit for her – she’s wrong and she’s selfish, but she’s also so very, very lonely. Whether or not she’s right to see it that way (HEST NO), Tor abandoned her to the dying in Ebora; and his homecoming underlined that, placing others above her again (because it’s always about Hest, right? HEST NO).

None of which excuses the fact that Hest is also a seething ball of racist ill will, which I cannot forgive. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH HUMANS, HEST. IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT YOUR PEOPLE DIED AFTER TRYING TO EAT THEM. Besides, the Queen calls her human. In my head, the Eborans are Wild-touched humans now (although I should probably give Ygseril the credit really).

If the Queen has achieved anything with her adoption strategy, she appears to have destroyed any hope Hest had left. Hest’s words to Aldasair are so defeated: she doesn’t believe the Jure’lia can be defeated (and she knows they can’t leave, even if they wanted to) – and she no longer believes she can escape them. Oh, Hest. No. No, no, no.

I’m not expecting her to be redeemed, but she’s my trash darling who will probably break a little bit of my heart before she dies.

Finneral: a fine place for a visit – with a hint of romance? Time to flail about Bern taking his boy home!

ThErE wAs No KiSsInG!


Finneral is – briefly – a respite. A land of the fierce and free (sort of the cantref of King Smoit meets the Free Commots in Prydain), where leaders ride around on Wild-touched bears (and boars) and you win hearts by doing something delightful and unasked-for for your beloved. Sure, that wins hearts everywhere. But here it’s a central part of courtship.

Isn’t it, Bern?

Ah, Ebora, so beautifully restored by this big man’s labours.

While I love the brief world-building before the Broken Field tears the peace apart, it can’t hold a candle to the simmering romance. From the moment they land, Bern is tripping over himself to try and stop his parents telling Aldasair what exactly Bern said about him when he wrote home.

He wrote home.

He wrote home about Aldasair. His Eboran Prince.

My ship is flying under full sail, and I am hanging from the rigging singing.

Wonderfully, the more bashful Bern gets – and the brilliant ‘meet the parents’ moments (they clearly think Aldasair is a fine match, and obviously their son is a wonderful catch) – the more bewildered and oblivious Aldasair becomes. He’s worried that Bern seems worried about something; he misses all the hints. He’s a child of Ebora’s death throes, he has likely never even seen romantic overtures, let alone experienced them before.

But threaten his big burly warrior and Aldasair discovers he likes wielding axes actually and is here to bash your door down. Aldasair and Jessen find their courage and their motivation on the Broken Field, and oh my heart this better end well or I will be in pieces.

I’m not sure how it can end well, though.

This week is not the week of romance running smoothly. Tor and Noon can’t get a moment; Vintage has some discouraging realisations about Nanthema; and Bern and Aldasair don’t end up in the honeymoon suite. Any thoughts to share about one or all almost-couples? Do you think we’ll get any happy ever afters?

<hollow screaming>

So: I know where this book leaves everyone, and I have THOUGHTS, but I’ll save those for when we get there. I have no idea where The Poison Song will leave us.

I’ll just say this: I love The Winnowing Flame for being casually and inclusively peopled with folk of every size, shape, colour and inclination – straight, gay, trans, disabled, old, young, living with PTSD – there’s so much going on. And while I don’t see there being happy ever afters for everyone (this week doesn’t look good for Vin and Nan or for Bern and Aldasair; but we’re mid-book two, anything can happen yet), I trust Jen Williams not to bury all her gays.

And oh, my heart hurts for Vintage. Nanthema has done little to win me over since she escaped the Behemoth – although, like Vin, I’ve been willing to make excuses for her. But I don’t think their row bodes well for them. It’s not irretrievable. A couple who wanted to make a go of it could heal and even grow stronger from recognising some of the truths in it. But… that’s the question, isn’t it? Does Nanthema really want to make a go of anything?

So here’s me hanging my hopes on Aldasair and Bern surviving the Behemoth and bringing my ship home safely.

Origin is home to more riddles than answers. What do you make of Micanal and Arnia? Do you believe the tablets are at the bottom of the gorge? Do you believe anything they’ve told us?

First things first: Tor, can you stop with the childishness and defeatism now? For a mighty Eboran warrior who is walking with legends, he’s awfully quick to give up on everything. Yes, the first battle was a shambles and his warbeast is as touchy as Tor himself; yes, it’s a long way to the nearest bath and some good wine; and yes, there’s a dragon on hand to ensure he doesn’t get to hump his favourite witch (THANK YOU KIRUNE).

On the other hand, I do love that Jen Williams throws away all the templates for heroes in this series. On paper, Tor looks like any epic fantasy hero: tall, dark, handsome, charming, a sex god and master swordsman with a tragic past and a legendary sword (fnarr fnarr). But he’s lazy and selfish and sulky when his protective spirit isn’t aroused.

…all of which means I’m giving Arnia the side-eye even more than I usually would. She’s a mysterious femme fatale who is clearly trying to seduce Tor, and is as transparently dishonest (if a good deal more elegant in side-stepping questions) as Tyranny Munk. She’s an archetype I can love, but here I’m all bristling hackles and mistrust. What did happen to the Golden Fox expedition, exactly? Did they really die of the Crimson Flux? (Arnia and Micanal seemed so guilty when asked about their deaths; surely it would simply have been an inevitable tragedy if it was the self-inflicted disease? So what happened?)

Delightfully, I can’t actually remember the details so I am indulging in thinking the absolute worst. I’m pretty sure those tablets aren’t in the gorge either; I’m totally with Noon on her suspicions here.

I do, however, remember what’s on the other side of the gorge and oh friends, buckle the fuck up because we’re in for a hell of a ride next week.


This is a free-form read-along – we’re reading companionably along to an outline schedule and some of us are blogging as we go. You’re very welcome to join us – just grab the book and join us in the comments or on Twitter to share your thoughts. Blogging to weekly prompts is entirely optional!

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!