Friday, November 14, 2014

Rain of Ash Project Fifteen: Book One by Rachel Elisabeth Judd

Gwen Bradshaw grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household with an authoritarian father.  With that kind of beginning, becoming a vampire hunter is a startling choice.  When Gwen's older sister Lydia suddenly disappears, her family crumbles, barely able to deal with the loss.  Little did Gwen realise that the return of sister would not be the happy ending she had dreamed of but a path which lead to bloodshed, tears and even death.

At times, Rain of Ash felt absolutely comical and  feels as though it is having difficulty deciding whether it is going to go angsty romance or all out ass kicking protagonist with a score to settle.  On one hand, we  Gwen the protagonist, with the typical tragic back story and requisite largely dead, or otherwise absent family and on the other, we have Timothy, the absolute cartoon antagonist who is as obvious as the nose on Pinocchio's face from his very first appearance in the story. There is also the issue that with all of her family recently dead, Gwen has time to think about a romance.  A high stakes stakeout becomes the perfect opportunity to consider kissing one her love interests for the first time, even if she might be dead in a few hours.

A Rain of Ash offered no surprises and felt like an amalgamation of many other books I have read .  The pacing is fine up and up until the last few chapters, Judd manage to avoid over wrought prose.  Fortunately, Judd did restrict this to the character of Tabitha, which while annoying, still made it tolerable.  Rain of Ash isn't an exciting read by any stretch of the imagination but it is passable and a comfortable way to pass away a rainy Sunday afternoon.

What Rain of Ash did have going for it however was it's inclusion.  Judd managed to create a very diverse cast and each marginalized person had specific signifiers that were extremely identifiable and welcoming.  Judd further managed to include two very strong female characters.  All of this makes Rain of Ash an extreme rarity in this genre.

In terms of GLBT inclusion, there is one bisexual character and one gay character, who unfortunately dies.  Roy's, family turned his back on him when he came out.  He managed to find security and love when he married Joel, only to lose it all when Joel became a Renfield (read: human vampire servant) killing their adopted daughters.  Since that time, Roy spends his time fighting vampires and using Grindr for hookups.  Unfortunately, Roy's story of course finishes with his own death.  I know that you're probably screaming, wondering how another story which includes the inevitable gay death can count as inclusion.  If the violence and death had been restricted to Roy, it would have been a problem but every single character has a horrible back story filled with tragedy and death.  Further, Roy was sure of who he was and spoke lovingly and openly about his deceased partner.  Roy's tragedy is taken just as seriously as every other personal tragedy in this story and while I would have preferred not to read another story which included gay death, I can appreciate that it is treated equal to the heterosexual characters and that Roy doesn't lose more than the straight characters.

Rain of Ash is littered with characters of colour and none of them are sidekicks. Aaron is Asian, Roy is Black and Roddie is the one armed (yes, a disabled character who is capable) former Latino coyote.  Often when it comes to characters of colour, other than a description which identifies them as specifically of colour, they are devoid of any cultural markers.  Roddie made food that is clearly Hispanic in origin, as well as littering his speech with Spanish and Aaron prayed to protective spirit clearly Asian in origin.  I was not able to forget for one minute that these men are men of colour.  Though in the end, Roddie ended up playing wise man of colour, each in his own way is essential to the story.

I found Gwen, the protagonist ,to be a little bit naive but considering her background and youth, it is completely understandable.  Gwen is however brave from the very beginning, unafraid to save her brothers and fight for justice for her family.  She did have her moments where she fell apart but the book would have been strange had Gwen not had a break down after all she had seen. Then, there is the no nonsense Tabitha, who is the leader of Project Fifteen.  Everyone looks to Tabitha for direction and all of the characters respect Tabitha as a leader.  Tabitha in many ways attempts to act as a mentor to Gwen, even offering to take her to get birth control.  Unfortunately, some of Tabitha's power is lessened when the manipulation she is attempting to negotiate os revealed. Still, Tabitha went out defending those she loved.  Finally, there is Lydia, who we were introduced to as the bisexual young woman who rebelled against her father's bigotry and control then disappeared.  Lydia doesn't have a large role to play in the story, as she functions more like inspiration for Gwen. However, we do learn in her brief appearance that under no circumstances is Lydia to be messed with.  Even as a vampire, Lydia refuses to follow the rules and seeks to cut her own path, no matter the cost.

Rain of Ash didn't end on a cliffhanger but Judd clearly left room for a second book in this series and I for one hope she continues on.  I would love to see how and if Gwen is able to pick up the pieces a second time and what the unusual talents of her family lead to.  Gwen has a lot of room to grow as a protagonist and it would be interesting to see that journey.  While the main plot of Rain of Ash is at times predictable, Judd did hint at a very organized vampire society and learning more about that would help to add a lot of meat to her world.  As in introduction novel, Rain of Ash met expectations, while hinting that there is more to come.  Rain of Ash won't exactly leave you gasping for more, but it is a comfortable easy read.

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from the author.