The Fall (Thieves of Fate, Book 2)
by Tracy Townsend
Pyr (400 pages, $18 paperback, $9.99 eBook, Jan 15, 2019)
Let’s start with something my friend Matt Moore would call a “hand grenade” on a panel: The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.
Why? Because it splits up our beloved characters and challenges them with new locales and crises, all while introducing brand new favorites and raising the stakes. I can still remember watching it for the first time as a kid (fine, it was on VHS) and learning back then that one of my main measures for the quality is how many times I gasp out loud at what’s happening. That sort of reaction is tough to achieve with a debut, let alone a sequel, but Lucas and his team pulled it off. And Tracy Townsend has done the same with The Fall, her follow-up to breakout novel The Nine, which I reviewed last year as my Top Book 0f 2017.
And good gods, The Fall is just as amazing. It even reminded me of Empire in a lot of ways, which may or may not have been intentional. Young Rowena Downshire is still very much the star, as she tries to find her footing in the company of Erasmus Pardon and Anselm Meteron, retired campaigners determined to keep her from realizing she’s one of nine subjects being studied by God as part of His Grand Experiment. But each of our valiant heroes gets their moments in the sun, as we learn how far they’re willing to go on the side of right. Much like Empire, The Fall expands various characters like Rowena’s mother Clara, but also adds a bunch of new faces to the mix. There’s even a Palpatine-esque shadow cast by Anselm’s father, Bishop Meteron, though he isn’t quite the Big Bad you’d expect – if he’s a villain at all.
One of the reasons I love the story Townsend weaves is that the myriad characters are all just people trying to do what they think is right. Even Anselm and Pardon aren’t sure they’re the good guys. The threatening figures among The Fall’s non-human peoples, the eye-heeled aigamuxa and the tree-like lanyani, are taking desperate measures because of centuries of colonial oppression, and yet the story never seems like it’s too on the nose. If you want to peg a real Big Bad here, I don’t know that I’d pick any of the novel’s characters – I might go with the Almighty Himself, since it’s the mystery surrounding his Experiment that really causes strife for The Fall’s protagonists.
Much like Empire, I could go on and on about why this novel is amazing, from the Fabricated – steampunky humanoid automatons – to fights on airships and inside hidden groves, to a mesmerizing cross between magic and science in a world literally unlike any I’ve read elsewhere. But I can’t cram every amazing thing about The Fall into five hundred words anymore than I could have about Empire, so you should probably just preorder it, and read The Nine while you wait.
An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published in On Spec, Pulp Literature, Electric Athenaeum, and elsewhere. Check out his Curious Fictions page, where he’ll be posting one short story per month and exclusive extras for subscribers. You can also follow Brandon at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly.