Verdict: Tanya Lee’s debut novel is a page-turner, with settings so richly detailed that you can practically smell the disinfectant in Sam’s childhood dorm and the garbage lining Barrow’s muddy lanes.
The Apocalypse hasn’t arrived, but the opening of this grim, yet compelling, young adult novel quickly takes readers into a North America drastically reshaped by environmental disaster. The continent is divided in two–the country of Seira in the drought-stricken south, and a no-name wilderness of anarchy, referred to only as “the North.” We meet Samarra (Sam) in the feudalistic north, which is plagued by brutality, constant rain, drug abuse, flooding, garbage, illness, and end-of-the-world religious cults.
An act of betrayal, which the novel never describes, plagues Sam with guilty nightmares about someone named Corvus. The incident causes Sam to flee the frighteningly rigid Seiran government that trained her from childhood to be a soldier. The novel alternates between present and past, as chapters move back and forth from Sam’s military youth to her life in the northern village of Barrow, where she conceals her past. In Barrow, Sam survives by working as an errand-running “drudge” for the gangster-like Vaun clan that controls the village. It’s a job requiring reading and writing–skills few Northerners possess–as well as the guts to transport bombs via bicycle and to kill when necessary. Sam develops a wary sense of friendship with her team of drudges, including the spookily quiet, Jackal. Yet she only reveals her identity to Barrow’s gruff baker, Ava.
Sam misses the south’s sanitary conditions, scientific advancement, and orderliness. But she finds a new social structure in the north– family–that stirs her curiosity and feelings. Similar to all the children in her warrior cohort, she grew up without parents. But Ava cares for Sam as if she were a daughter. Sam wonders what it feels like to be a mother, and unexpectedly longs to sooth Ava’s grief over the disappearance of her actual daughter, Raina. Although she has never met the young woman, Sam secretly quests to rescue Raina or, at least, discover what happened to her.
THE WOLF AND THE RAIN is overlong, with too many bad dreams and violent encounters. It’s also frustrating that it leaves key mysteries unsolved–particularly the Corvus nightmares–although a sequel may provide answers.
That said, Tanya Lee’s debut novel is a page-turner, with settings so richly detailed that you can practically smell the disinfectant in Sam’s childhood dorm and the garbage lining Barrow’s muddy lanes. It’s a dystopian epic made for film.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader