Of Faith and Knowledge: A Review of War Of Rain

This week I am participating in H.W. Vivian’s blog tour to promote her new novel War Of Rain. This is H.W. Vivian’s third novel, her second under that moniker (one of them being released under the pen name Alex Chu), and it marks her return to YA.

War Of Rain takes place in a future where the Earth has been ravaged by global warming and humanity has been reduced to pre-Bronze Age level technology. The protagonist, Miri, is from a village called Boreala where her people are known as Rain-gatherers. This doesn’t mean quite what you’d initially think. Rain is in fact a special resource, a kind of highly purified frozen water that is gathered from a special cave and can only be melted for consumption through prayer. Miri and her people make daily pilgrimages to the cave, collect the Rain, and then trade it with other nearby villages that specialize in making other things like pottery or woodwork tools.

The conflict begins when Miri’s Rain gathering caravan is attacked by barbarians, a war-like group from the faraway city of Stratos that does not know how to pray to unlock the Rain but hoards it anyway. Miri kills one of the barbarians to defend a friend, and this sparks a war between Stratos and Boreala, a problematic situation for the Rain-gatherers who are peaceful and don’t have much in the way of weaponry. It’s the catalyst that sends Miri on a quest at the bidding of the barbarian king to find a mythical invention that can be used for both war and peace and will help the people of Stratos and Boreala. In return he promises to spare her people.

This book could be put under the dystopian or post-apocalyptic YA label, but to go into the story expecting it to really fall into that sort of category will probably leave the reader unfulfilled. In reality this story is a religious parable mostly aimed at young readers, and I think looking at it that way is really the best way to effectively judge it.

For example, without directly giving away too many spoilers, the story ends in essentially a Deus Ex Machina, something writers are told repeatedly to avoid in their stories. However, in the context of Miri and her people being saved by divine intervention as a reward for her faith, this actually works in the story. Certainly it is more fulfilling than the classic bad example of ending your story with a nuke landing on all of your characters for no reason. A lot of the over-the-top action and the existence of the fantastical, physics-defying Rain in a supposedly future-Earth setting would also be rather bizarre if you viewed this story through the lens of “realistic science-fiction”.

The writing style can be somewhat didactic at times with Miri’s internal monologue churning through events and extrapolating life lessons from what she is encountering on her quest. But, again, in the context of a religious parable for young readers, I don’t think this approach is inappropriate. I found Miri herself to also be sympathetic character with the first person perspective really allowing the reader to see the development of her intellect as well as her crises of faith as she goes about her quest.

I did enjoy that the story emphasizes the importance of both faith and science and the ways in which they should work together. The primary philosophy of the book seems to preach a sort of middle way (like Buddhism!) showing the dangerous outcomes of both religious fanaticism and intolerance as well as the pitfalls of overt reliance on technology with a lack of ethical guidance. I think these are important ideas to consider given the social and political conflicts of our time around things like global warming, and I think War Of Rain espouses a useful mythology in that sense.

One thing that I wish was expanded upon was the primary villain, the leader of the barbarian hordes. Without revealing any real spoilers, Miri’s journey takes her to a secluded society that has kept itself hidden and aloof from the barbarians and the Rain-gatherers. It is here that she discovers the invention she needs. However, while no one else in the story knows about this society, the barbarian leader does, but he doesn’t actually explain how he came by that knowledge. That relationship is something I would have liked to learn more about.

Overall I think this story does what it does well, and it wraps a fun tale around its lessons too. I’m not sure that I would recommend this book to anyone who is a hardcore atheist (though as an agnostic/atheist myself, I didn’t find it offensive or obnoxious), but I think it is certainly a good story for young readers, and, as I said before, presents some good ideas about the potential unity of faith and science.

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