The Poison Song Read-along: week one

Read-along banner: The Poison Song, A #WyrdAndWonder Read-along

Autumn has come and it’s time to witness the conclusion to the epic battle between the nations of Sarn and the Jure’lian invaders. An unexpected victory at Ebora reset the board – but the war is far from over….

Welcome back to the Wyrd and Wonder read-along of Jen Williams’s spectacular, genre-defying trilogy The Winnowing Flame. We’ve yelled. We’ve cheered. We’ve shipped. We’ve sobbed. And we’re not done yet. What does Jen Williams have in store for us in the final volume? Let’s find out…

Enter Agent Chenlo. What are your first impressions of the Yuron-kai Winnowry agent and her interactions with Noon and Vintage? 

The narrative sets us up to like Agent Chenlo, but… I really like Agent Chenlo. We’ve seen how the Winnowry tends to grind the goodness out of people: you have to be hard to survive, and nothing about their ‘care’ encourages you to care for others. Even Noon when we first met her was pretty self-centred, although she blossomed with a bit of TLC. Chenlo seems to survived with her sense of empathy intact (…although I wonder whether we’re being misled slightly, and will find that she has some Awful Dark Secret in her past).

I could argue that any form of support for the Winnowry perpetuated the evil of the Winnowry, but I won’t argue with anyone who tried to make it more bearable for those trapped in it. Just as I choose to believe that all the fell-witches have genuinely come to Ebora at her urging to be free women, not as part of some insidious gambit.

Why yes, I have suspicious bones in my body, why do you ask?

But taking a step back from the brink of I Can Dream Up The Actual Worst (I haven’t even started), I trust Chenlo. Her attempts to capture who the girls were seem like a sincere effort to recognise and memorialise them as people, not as faceless fell-witches who she was helping indenture into a reprehensible religious narcotics manufacturing business.

I loved her interactions with Noon (ah, Noon – so awkward with the idea of command – maybe even with the idea of being loved, I think) and Vintage (don’t ask, just tell; if this woman is half as handy as she looks, of course she’ll go to Jarlsbad with you). I’m not sure whether Vintage was being a high-handed noblewoman asserting her privileged assumptions or a devious wanderer who is surprisingly good at manoeuvring people into doing what she wants. And never takes no for an answer. I also enjoyed their little falling out on the road: Chenlo all Winnowry efficiency – no side trips, no fun, just get the job done – and Vintage exhibiting her usual skill at getting a feel for the land and making connections with its people

Have I mentioned recently how much I love Vintage? Oh right, we’re talking about Chenlo. Hey, I like her a lot too. And I’m keeping an eye on her.

So Bern’s gambit succeeded and the Jure’lia have retreated in disarray. Hest is not happy to find herself on what feels like the losing side. Has she miscalculated? What do you make of her response?


I know, I know: evergreen comment.

I’ll admit to being mildly surprised by just how successful the memory has been. The hive mind of the Jure’lia is disrupted, the Queen is distracted, Bern himself is sick experiencing even the edges of their disarray. Only Hest seems to be able to rise above it – although maybe it’s closer to the mark to say only Hest is desperate enough to drive herself past it in search of the validation she craves.

You I have to sort of admire Hest’s commitment to her terrible decisions. She will not let herself back down: she made her choice, and she’s sticking with it, and she’ll turn on anyone who threatens her. And now she’s learned how to fleshcraft herself some more reliable friends (and that’s both really creepy and slightly sad, isn’t it?) and captain a Behemoth to take the war into her own hands. What can possibly go wrong?

Yes, well.

My first random guess for the week: Hest will inadvertently help end the war in a failed attempt to take over the Jure’lia and become their new Queen.

Tyranny Munk, Queen of Tigrish, companion to warbeasts. What do you think will happen when Vintage and Chenlo make it to Jarlsbad?

I can’t help myself: there was a little yelp of joy and an air punch at the news we hadn’t seen the last of Tyranny Munk. Moving right along from my inevitable and inexcusable attachment to a good villain, I think things will get interesting. And I mean that in the traditional sense of ‘oh god, oh god, we’re you’re all going to die’.

Let’s fact it, Tyranny isn’t likely to take advice – least of all from a Winnowry agent (and we already know she and Chenlo have never seen eye to eye). She might be a bit more tractable for Vintage – I got the impression she genuinely liked our adventuring archaeologist – but the only way I see this little side trip ending well is if Hest attacks the city while they’re all having their inevitable argument.

So let’s make that my second random guess for the week…

That would definitely count as interesting.

Oh dear stars above, Tor is sick. We’ve reached the final act, my darlings. Time to cast your auguries: who will survive The Poison Song?





Look, I know there’s been plenty of foreshadowing and it was really too much to ask that the Crimson Flux wouldn’t touch our protagonists, but I’m not ready for this. And I have a terrible feeling about what it may augur for the rest of our bright, brave party.

Random guess number three: we won’t see an unexpected last-minute cure for Tor, however much I might long for one. He and Noon will not get a happy ever after.

I am still holding out for Jen Williams giving a happy ending to Bern/Aldasair and I will not be held accountable for the flooding if Vintage doesn’t make it out alive. So I guess there’s my final random guess of the week: the Jure’lia will be defeated – or reconciled (oooh) – and there will be space for happy endings for some.

But I have no doubt that the cost will be devastating.

And I sort of hope Hest survives and has to acknowledge – and then live with – What She Did.


This is a casual read-along – we’re reading companionably to an outline schedule and some of us are blogging as we go.

  • Lisa of Dear Geek Place
  • Annemieke of A Dance with Books
  • Mayri the Book Forager
  • imyril of There’s Always Room For One More (that’s here!)

Want to join us? You’re very welcome – just grab the book and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter or on Goodreads. Weekly blogging is entirely optional.

Discussion Schedule

Casual is the name of the game, but we’ll broadly follow our schedule. Consider this a guide to the earliest date you can start discussing weekly prompts – it’s fine to post later (but if you read ahead – no spoilers please!):

  • Sunday 15th September | Beginning through end Chapter Nine
  • Sunday 22nd September | Chapter Ten – Nineteen
  • Sunday 29th September | Chapter Twenty – Thirty
  • Sunday 6th October | Chapter Thirty-one – Forty-two
  • Sunday 13th October | Chapter Forty-three through the end

Prompts typically posted on the Goodreads group midweek (if they’re not up by Friday, kick me). If anyone else fancies taking the questions one week, I’m happy to share.