Title: The Ninth Sorceress
Author: Bonnie Wynne
Publisher Info / Release: Talem Press | February 20, 2020
Rating: 4/5 *’s
In the blackest dungeon of the Clockwork City, a prisoner lies bound in silver shackles. Who is she? And why are the wizards so afraid of her?
Seventeen-year-old Gwyn has no family and no past. Apprenticed to a half-mad herbalist, she travels the snow-blasted High Country, hawking potions in a peddler’s wagon. Her guardian hides her from the world like a dark secret, and she knows better than to push for answers.
But when she discovers she is hunted by the goddess Beheret, Gwyn is drawn into a deep and ancient tale: of chained gods and lost magic, of truths long buried and the rising of a war she never could have imagined.
Wizards and their magic-sniffing hounds pursue her – as does a stranger in a smiling mask, who calls her by an unfamiliar name…
But what really terrify her are the dangerous gifts she’s spent her life suppressing. Now, Gwyn must step out of the shadows and take charge of her destiny – even if the price is her own soul.
The Ninth Sorceress is the breathtaking first installment of The Price of Magic, a sweeping fantasy saga full of rich storytelling and tangible magic.
I was given an ARC by Talem Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you again for the opportunity!
This debut novel from Talem Press’s newest author is one you’ll want to pick up ASAP!
Opening in media res, the first pages describe a gloomy, mysterious cell and the audience is immediately transported to the world of Gwyn. It’s an introduction that effortlessly pulls you into the story in such an intriguing way that you can’t help but keep reading to learn more and, most importantly, why.
Bonnie’s writing is thoughtfully beautiful and precise. It’s clear her love of travel played a big inspiration into the world-building, providing plenty of detail in order to feel like you’ve fallen into the novel itself and are experiencing it right next to Gwyn. Who, despite touching on feelings of isolation – or perhaps because of it – is impossible not to relate to. A powerful sorceress falling victim to the human condition, ultimately hoping for connection under the surface.
Even with the knowledge of some of Bonnie’s writing difficulties, it’s hard to point out a flaw! Talem Press has definitely done it again by finding her, and I look forward to her future works.
Was there something specific that sparked the idea for the story?
BW: I think it was a combination of things. I used to play Final Fantasy VIII on PlayStation when I was a kid, and I loved this idea of sorceresses as terrifying, once-in-a-generation tyrant rulers. It ties in with my interest in history and how dictators can rise to power.
I’m also an obsessive fan of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. In that series, the Aes Sedai are female magic users, and in a lot of books (especially older books), that means being either a hideous bog hag or a sultry temptress in a chainmail bikini. But Robert Jordan treats the Aes Sedai just as seriously as Gandalf – they’re powerful, they’re political, they’re ambitious, and they’re also subject to human flaws like pettiness and hubris. That was definitely a big influence on my writing. The Ninth Sorceress was my chance to tell my own story about female magic users, both good and bad.
Do you pull from real life experiences in your writing?
BW: I’m luckily able to travel a lot, and I think I draw on those experiences in my writing. I love describing different landscapes and climates, and unusual foods, and foreign cultures. Whenever I see or learn something cool, I shelve it away for future use in my books.
I’m also a natural loner/swamp hermit, so when I was writing my main character, I drew on that feeling of being a bit of an outsider, of not knowing how to connect with people. I think most folks can relate to that, especially young people who might still be discovering themselves and finding their place in the world.
Were there any scenes that you wanted to include but had to cut?
BW: I cut about 80,000 words from my first ‘final’ draft, so… a lot!
Mostly, it was all the scenes I’d written from other characters’ points of view. I’d written a lot of material focusing on side characters, random villagers and bystanders. It’s fun to get into a new character’s head and see the story from another angle, and I love playing around with different voices. But in the end, I whittled the book down to just Gwyn (my main character) and her viewpoint. It gives a tighter focus and helps the reader get to know her better. I think that’s important for a first book, while the reader is still getting used to the world and its rules.
I’ll probably publish some of the cut scenes on my website or in my newsletter eventually. I have them all squirrelled away on my hard drive for future use.
What kind of research did you have to do for your story?
BW: For me, it’s mostly just the details that make up a convincing pseudo-medieval world. What kind of professionals would people have in a medieval/Renaissance city besides ‘blacksmith’ and ‘baker’ and ‘seamstress?’ What would it smell like? What are those strange, crunchy details that make the world feel authentic and true?
The good thing is that when you’re writing a fantasy and not an historical fiction, you can play a bit free and loose with those details. My world is really more 16th/17th century than medieval, with an understanding of germ theory, widespread use of the printing press, and fairly advanced sanitation. But I get to pick and choose which parts of history to include. So I have telescopes, but no gunpowder. Women are generally regarded as equal to men, but there’s been no industrial revolution. All those choices I make as an author spring from the research I’ve done over many years.
What element of writing do you struggle with most? Dialogue, exposition, etc.
BW: I find writing emotions hard. My family is naturally very stoic, and I was always raised to keep that ‘stiff upper lip’. So it can be tough to access those feelings when it’s time to write an emotional scene. I make it easier on myself by writing a main character who’s also emotionally reserved, but I still have to dig deep and find that well of feeling.
Character voice is also tricky. Writing a shy seventeen-year-old girl isn’t too hard, because I was once a shy seventeen-year-old girl myself. But what about a hardened twenty-something swordsman? What about an exiled shapeshifter on the run from his past? Or an acid-tongued, emotionally fragile necromancer? They all have very different ways of approaching the world, and it’s tricky to capture that in dialogue. Tricky, but fun!
This is listed as book one of a series – how many do you have in the works for it?
BW: I’ll do at least three, but the answer is really ‘as many as it takes to finish’. Right now the series is leaning towards about five books total, but if I see a way to wrap things up sooner, I won’t stuff it full of filler material. If it’s finished after book three or book four then so be it! I also have ideas for a sequel series, so I might end up living in this world for a long time yet.
About the author
Bonnie Wynne studied Writing and Cultural Studies at UTS, and completed her law degree at the University of Sydney. After a brief stint in legal publishing, she now works for the Australian government, deciphering ancient law tomes.
She lives in Sydney with her cocker spaniel, Percival Hector (Canine Inspector). When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games, booking her next holiday, or elbow-deep in flour.
THE NINTH SORCERESS is her debut novel and the first book in her series, THE PRICE OF MAGIC.
-Talem Press (AUS & NZ) – https://talempress.com/books/the-ninth-sorceress-print/
-Better Read than Dead (in store for Australians & event) – https://www.betterreadevents.com/events/bonnie-wynne-the-ninth-sorceress