So fellow City Owl writer E.J. Wenstrom has a fun prequel novella that I had the pleasure to read this weekend. It’s called Rain, and it’s an introduction to the Third Realm War series of books that starts with Mud. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in but with a series title like that, I was starting to think about high fantasy or airship politics.
Instead, the prequel follows the life of Nia, a young baker in some kind of agrarian tripartite society that worships three different gods. Nia is mainly concerned with one of the gods’ ambassadors, an angel called Calipher (I’m pretty sure this is some off-color joke about the thickness of his divinity.) At first I thought I was reading a YA novel; the writing is direct, short on details, and focuses on the emotional and practical life of the protagonist. This is a good thing for a prequel.
The story soon gets into some pretty dark places, which for a male reader is a little like getting a crash course in just how quickly girls have to grow up. Unfortunately things do tend to go south, and without spoiling it for you, it was an interesting take on the dynamic of women in society, the effects of reputation and the practicality of survival. And with Nia’s fate, the world around her answers in the form of inclement weather as a war intimately tied to people just like her unfolds in the background. When it Rains, it Pours.
I would have liked to see the Rain setting up an integral part of Mud, which would have tied it in nicely, but as a character piece it is very well done. Just about the only thing I didn’t like about it was the sense that people were always giving up on Nia just when she needed someone to love. I mean, it’s pretty damn accurate about how men usually behave, but having a spunky character who can overcome those circumstances would have been nice too. Rain just walks very close to slut-shaming, so that was a bit unpleasant. If I was writing it I would have allowed Nia to own her power and sexuality, which would have allowed her to overcome the need for the male figures in her life. But as a tragedy it is a perfect vessel to showcase what is happening in the broader war from a limited perspective.
Good Job, EJ!