Published by Atmosphere Press in December 2021. 318 pages.
My personal notes for Where The Rain Cannot Reach (WTRCR) abound with direct quotes that either shifted or affirmed my understanding of freedom (which I’ll return to later). Adesina Brown’s debut novel is remarkably wise and gentle, though it doesn’t exempt its characters from the inevitable hardships of resisting centuries-long oppression. This novel is rife with ruminations on love, relationships, identity and political struggles that are integral to its worldbuilding. Readers of WTRCR will encounter a world that is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, yet proves far more effective at depicting race and gender in ways that diverge from real-world racism, patriarchy, and imperialism.
WTRCR is constructed around an epic, heroic journey. Tair, the protagonist, is introduced to us as a young, brown-skinned, displaced Human on the brink of adulthood. Her elders consist of a Dwarf (Shianna), an Elf (Silaa), and a Fel, or Faery-Elf hybrid (Alyn). These elders have raised Tair in the Elf-land of Mirte — alternately training her for and protecting her from the challenging future that lies ahead.
As an infant, Tair was abandoned in the Darkwoods that separate Human lands (Sossoa) from non-Human lands (Nossoa), on the continent of Gosso. As the prophesied “lost” Human child, Tair is destined to trigger the end of Sossoa’s fascistic regime, which perpetuates mass-murder and torture against all non-Human life (derogatorily referred to as raiso). Until the end of the novel, it isn’t clear how Tair will end this regime, but there’s no small chance that it will involve a great amount of self-sacrifice. Brown is deliberate about making readers wait to learn what Tair is truly capable of, and the drawn-out conclusion makes Tair’s journey all the more revelatory.
Tair’s perpetual alienation (as a multilingual Human raised by non-Humans) opens up WTRCR to many reconsiderations of Tair’s world specifically, and of life generally. In an attempt to avoid spoilers without withholding the author’s tender words, I’ll share bits of the wisdom I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Below are some chronological excerpts that strike me as wise and affective:
“…she had been told that she was not unique in her responsibilities, her path, her life, but that she was precious all the same.” (p. 14)
“Shianna herself was rather averse to complacency […] It is in the refusal to defend others that one loses their ability to defend themself, she had said on occasion.” (p. 19)
“There had to be something else lingering within her and other Humans that they had not yet been able to discover. Something that had perhaps laid dormant for generations.” (p. 118)
“In Sossoa, there were beings who looked like her, yet she was still unsure of whether or not simply looking like someone made anywhere feel like home.” (p. 205)
“‘Liberation may one day mean the ability to move freely between lands, to determine for oneself where they belong and what they will do with their lives once they get there,’ Rose continued on.” (p. 223)
“Both of them knew that something had changed in Tair. Something was different. Different, not wrong. Not wrong but changing. She could not place what it was, but she at least had a secret now— something she could not, and would not, allow Rain to see.” (p. 293)
Having discussed what I enjoyed in WTRCR, I’ll close this review with what left me wanting more. In the middle third of the novel (starting around Chapter 5, when Tair is troubled to learn more about what’s expected of her, or what her heroism entails), the story loses some of its emotional force — zipping through major events in Tair’s journey without allowing readers ample time and space to digest them. In this middle section, Tair’s reactions to her changing circumstances often felt like obligatory details as opposed to integral ones — quickly fading into the background to make way for another plot point. The final third of the novel ultimately won me over again, but there are missed opportunities, in the telling of this story, to elaborate upon Sossoa’s cruelty in relation to other realms and establish Tair’s personality beyond her pacifism, stubbornness, and youthful naivete. WTRCR is meant to be the first book in a multi-book series; I hope the subsequent volumes pick up on those missed opportunities.
*I was provided with an e-book in exchange for an honest review