The Bitter Twins Read-along: week four

The Bitter Twins Read-along

Hestillion and Celaphon are given a unique opportunity. The mysteries of Origin deepen as Kirune finds a way to the island’s heart. And in Ebora, Vintage finds herself ever more reliant on uncertain friends…

It’s the penultimate week of The Bitter Twins read-along and the many-threaded plots are developing rapidly with little hint of how any may be resolved! Given what Jen Williams threw at us this week, this post could almost be nothing but incoherent screaming, but I’ve tried to use the prompts to provide a bit of structure to all my vowels.


Animated gif from Stranger Things 3: Max tells El about happy screaming

New connections: how do you feel about events aboard the Behemoth? How do you think her newly imposed alien empathy will affect Hest’s choices in future? #WhatWillHestDo?

My ship, my ship came sailing in came sailing in came sailing in 😀

In spite of everything – capture, what amounts to torture, a dizzying new connection for Bern – Jen Williams warmed my heart this week. Firstly with Aldasair’s shattering recognition of what Bern means to him:

“I would live another thousand years in that empty palace of the dead, rather than lose you”


Then Aldasair’s fierce insistence to Sharrik and Jessen that it was worth fighting (none of Hest’s despair for him); Sharrik’s quiet rumble that ‘my human lives’ (I cannot get enough of warbeast dragonish possessiveness); and finally – surprisingly – Hest’s awareness of the connection forged between Bern and Aldasair, so utterly different to that of the war beasts or the Jure’lia. Their feelings are deep and true and every time the narrative touches on them it grows a little brighter, gains comfort if not hope.

The Queen’s plan to bring people and war beasts into her hive still feels weird to me. It doesn’t seem to let her control them – or maybe we’ve just not seen that yet, since there is clearly a shared consciousness from her conversation inside Hest’s head. I guess at the very least, the new mutual understanding gives her an advantage of seeing and knowing, as well as disorienting her enemies. She’s experimenting, improvising – and that I am fascinated by. I love just how alien she remains through this narrative. And I was fascinated by how irritable she became when Celaphon inadvertently compared his bond to her to the bond shared between the other war beasts.

“What they feel is less,” the queen cut in sharply. “The bond that we have, now, Celaphon, is eternal.”

No dissing the Queen and her gifts, folks. Even by implication.

My heart does ache for Celaphon. Whilst his childishness and naive selfishness don’t generally endear him to me, I have empathy for his constant pain and isolation. His motivation feels less selfish than Hest’s, although that’s a bit unfair of me: he doesn’t want to be alone; she doesn’t want to die. It’s odd though – when she had her moment of truth acknowledging this, I thought less of her. Gosh I’m unreasonably judgemental. Would I really make a different choice in her position? (…I like to think I wouldn’t have made all the other choices that got her into this position, though!)

But that leaves me with a sharp fear: now she has turned her back on her entire world in the hope of joining the Jure’lian future, what will Hest do next? I don’t like her consideration that Bern – as a weapon – will become more important to Celaphon than she is. I don’t like the implications at all.

…but I very much do like she owns that she is ‘a woman who made a choice’ and has damned herself. Yes, dear. This is entirely on you.

Allies or antagonists: as the Yuron-Kai challenge Vintage’s leadership and Tyranny Munk and Okaar make themselves indispensable, what do you think is going to happen in Ebora?

…I’m going to duck this, as I remember the details. Instead, let’s take a moment to admire the world-building. In some ways, the narrative spends so little time on it; in others, Jen Williams is constantly introducing little details that give it depth and nuance and ever-increasing scale. We’re up to at least 5 distinct human cultures now – plus Ebora past and present – and whilst we’re hardly diving deep into any of them, they leap off the page with dimensions. It’s excellent thumb nailing (although I like to think that if we cornered her at the bar with a drink, Ms Williams could likely talk at length about several of them). This is the sort of world-building I love best: where a world becomes tangible in passing, leaving you curious to explore more even as you get distracted by plot again.

Tell you what though, I don’t have a lot of time for the Yuron-Kai. They have the effortless arrogance of the Eborans and their logic is deeply flawed (even allowing for grief). “The blood-drinking monsters always save us and this time they didn’t so they owe us” does not get me on side any more than it convinces Vintage, although she manages to be considerably politer to them than I think I might. Besides, it’s hard to empathise with people who embalm their son’s head so they can throw it at people to make a point.

The thing is, I don’t necessarily think they’re being disingenuous – where Tyranny and co feel like they have a game plan and are biding their time, I suspect the Yuron-Kai are completely transparent. They want reparations; they didn’t show up to loot Ebora under a thin pretext (otherwise they’d have shown up years ago and pretext be damned). And in some respects, I can’t fault the argument of introducing more people to the eggs to see if more war beasts will hatch to choose riders (and oh Vin, I’m so sorry none have hatched for you).

And whilst I still don’t trust Tyranny or Okaar (and am awfully suspicious of Jhef), I have nothing but wild applause for her punches.

Flawed mirrors: our Eboran contingent have over-indexed on arrogant self-regard recently – but this week we come face to face with their startling origins. Are we reading fantasy or scifi?

My word, I thought I was going to choke on different Eborans telling humans they’re allegedly fond of how inferior they are this week. I am SO ANGRY with Vostok for belittling Noon and sucking up to Micanal, and whilst I still have a little empathy for Nanthema, I have affection left for her. As for Tor… well, let’s just say thank heavens for Kirune and his blunt commentary on who Tor may or may not be considering sleeping with (also let’s have a moment enjoying the many hilarious ways Kirune has now passed opinion. Humping still gets the prize though).

So I was decidedly smug when Tor found himself face to face with what sounds remarkably like a hologram and a bunch of digitised personalities, all of whom considered him an under-evolved disappointment. No, dear, you’re not special.

While we’ve had plenty of hints that the Jure’lia are alien – or inter-dimensional – I remember the dizzying vertigo the first time I read The Bitter Twins. I get so embedded in a world-view; to have the camera pan up and out like this to provide such an unexpected perspective was almost as shocking for me as for Tor (although I’ve got more context than our poor sap-drinking sword-wielding monkey). I love how Jen Williams looks around for any traces of genre boundaries here and then cheerfully stomps all over the chalk lines until we’re left with a heady mix of fantasy tropes, science fictional elements and a dose of horror. I will die on the hill that this series is neither one thing nor the other, and I love it all the more for it.

…but not half as much as I love Eboran arrogance getting its comeuppance.

(Although: how the hell did I forget Eeskar and co? It’s only been 18 months! I’m getting old and stuffing my head with too many new books, I guess. Sheesh).

There’s so much going on! Any other thoughts to share?
Honestly, it’s mostly just vowels from me at this point.


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!