The Nine: Original premise, cool gadgets and a great heist story

The Nine by Tracy Townsend fantasy book reviewsThe Nine by Tracy Townsend fantasy book reviewsThe Nine by Tracy Townsend

The Nine (2017), by Tracy Townsend, is the first book in a fantasy series titled THE THIEVES OF FATE. This second-world fantasy, with its fascinating premise, imaginative settings, cool gadgets, and rich visuals, gives the reader an exciting heist story, beautifully rendered non-human people and an intellectually challenging, thought-provoking look at science, faith, and perception of God.

The Nine follows Rowena, a young woman who serves as a courier for a shady character; Anselm Meteron, a semi-retired crime lord; the Alchemist, (who’s an alchemist); and the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers, who is a scientist and part of the Ecclesiastical Commission. Chalmers and his partner have made a discovery that will change decades of belief and work, and change the understanding of God. They have named it the “God particle.” These particles might attach themselves to particular people; a group known as the Vautneks. The old theory of the Vautneks is that God chose nine, and observes them. Based on their behavior, God decides whether the human race will continue. Before Chalmers and his partner can announce their findings at the Decadal Conference, she sends him a frantic letter telling him to destroy their notes; then she disappears.

Tracy Townsend

From there, the story follows a strange book with pages that seem to be blank but then write themselves … and then cross out and correct themselves. The notes in the book show that it is clearly reporting on the movements of the Nine. All the humans in the book assume automatically that the Nine are all human, but the ambulatory, sentient tree-folk, the lanyani, and the strong, agile, and angry aixamuga have a strong interest in the book as well. The lanyani and aixamuga were two of my favorite elements; they are clearly described and they are genuine beings. They aren’t human characters in costume. In the case of the aigamuxa, they have a genuine grievance against the humans, who enslaved them.

The story is interesting, the “caper” section of the book is great fun, and the characters are complicated enough to make me enjoy spending time with them. Chalmers is actually one of the least-heroic characters I’ve read in recent memory. He has an important role to play in the story but he also provides a dark-tinged comic relief since he is so socially inept, and so fearful. The descriptions and the conception of the level of technology, with electric trains and “sparks” (telegrams), read like a pleasant mix of steampunk and a well-visualized role-playing game. I’d go so far as to say “a video game” because the book is highly visual, and little details, like the aigamuxa with eyes on the heels of their feet, stand out.

The Fall (Thieves of Fate Book 2) by Tracy Townsend (Author)

Sequel

The personal history, and the necessary banter, between Anselm and the Alchemist is good; they are both a contrast to stalwart, loyal Rowena. Secondary characters, like a self-serving thief and a local cop who cares about her city but has become tarnished by corruption, are nicely drawn. The heist is complicated enough to have space for things to go wrong and betrayals to be made.

The Nine has an awkward structure. We are introduced to the characters and then spend quite a bit of time in the point of view of a secondary character (or maybe she’s even a minor character), Bess. After her experiences provide the exposition we need, the story packs her off to a prison barge for the rest of the book. There is a sense at the end that things may be righted for Bess, but if that happens it’s not on the page. I was jarred by her disappearance from the story after we’d spent so much time with her. This is a series, and it might be that Bess’s storyline will be picked up again, but it still distracted me.

I was fascinated, however, by the reaction of various characters to the idea of the Nine. Of course the human villains in the piece believe that the Nine should be identified and controlled or “protected” (read, imprisoned) so that they can’t do anything that would offend God. The aixamuga have a more sinister interpretation of the plan. And the idea itself is really interesting.

The Nine gives nods to many classic works, including Philip Pullman and Scott Lynch, among others. My rating of four stars instead of five comes mainly because I did think the book took a little too long to get started. I loved the visuals and the story itself, and I am looking forward to the rest of THIEVES OF FATE.

Publication date: November 14, 2017. In the dark streets of Corma exists a book that writes itself, a book that some would kill for… Black market courier Rowena Downshire is just trying to pay her mother’s freedom from debtor’s prison when an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares.  Rowena escapes with her life, but the strange book she was ordered to deliver is stolen. The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, and when Rowena shows up on his doorstep, frightened and empty-handed, he knows better than to turn her away. What he discovers leads him to ask for help from the last man he wants to see—the former mercenary, Anselm Meteron. Across town, Reverend Phillip Chalmers awakes in a cell, bloodied and bruised, facing a creature twice his size. Translating the stolen book may be his only hope for survival; however, he soon realizes the book may be a fabled text written by the Creator Himself, tracking the nine human subjects of His Grand Experiment. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of humanity. Rowena and her companions become the target of conspirators who seek to use the book for their own ends.  But how can this unlikely team be sure who the enemy is when they can barely trust each other? And what will happen when the book reveals a secret no human was meant to know?

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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One comment

  1. A book that writes itself AND a heist, you say? I may have to read this!

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