This review contains spoilers.
I recall seeing this on the Twitter page of I Loves The Diff’, which is what got me intrigued to read it.
Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan pulled me in for two reasons. Firstly, it was more of a sci-fi novel, and as someone trying to widen my horizons when it comes to reading, this struck me as a good a place as any to go to try something new. Secondly, the book is set in Cardiff. It’s firstly set in Cardiff (but on Mars), so the names of well-loved streets and public places are used here and there, but later is set in real, Earth-Cardiff.
I enjoyed an incredible amount that the novel was set in Cardiff (both on Earth and on Mars). This is something I have not experienced before. The closest I’ve ever come has been the Welsh theme of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, or the occasional mention of a Welsh name in the webcomic, Homestuck. I’ve never seen something be based in Cardiff so heavily – and it was wonderful to see. However, I do worry that this was the only aspect of the book that I really liked.
While the sci-fi elements of it was good, I found it a little sad to hear the descriptions of a ruined and decrepit Cardiff. After all, I live here, and it’s still bustling and full, and I like that. To hear that Animal Wall was gone, or the Museum was falling apart, or that Cardiff Castle was more ruin than attraction, was a bit disheartening to envision.
The plot itself wasn’t too bad. I liked the message that intelligence can thrive in ways other than purely academic, and with that, the message that there is worth to be found in people outside of their academic achievement. As a student currently waiting for some exam results, this was pretty nice to hear, and eased my conscience up just a little.
However, my biggest bother with this book was the presentation of some of the characters. I usually consider myself easy to please, when it comes to literature. I usually find reasons to love characters anyways. I often welcome a love interest with open arms, and usually am able to trudge through a plot even if I find it particularly difficult to, or if it doesn’t sit well with me. This book was different to that, and I got more grateful that I was nearing the end with every page flip. I didn’t mind the flowering relationship between Bree (our female main character) and Halley (the male love interest), as it seemed a simple and innocent enough relationship that I could get behind. However, it was later found that Halley initiated the characters’ friendship and by extension, relationship, on being bribed to do so for the easiness of a science experiment – so it was fake. My biggest criticism of this is that when called out on this by Bree, Halley said:
(Halley): “Bree, you’ve got…”
“Don’t tell me I’ve got it wrong!” I (Bree) laughed.
“I was going to say, you’ve got to forgive me.”
“Why should I forgive you?”
“I’m the one who doesn’t deserve to be on this mission. I’m only here because I agreed to lie and cheat and spy on you for Carter. I am a liar, I’m despicable and I know I am. Still, you have to forgive me.”
“That makes no sense,” I said.
“Love makes no sense.”
(Halley): “I’ve fallen in love.”
“Will you stop using that word?” I (Bree) cried. “No one says that word! If you think for a moment that I could ever believe what you’re saying…”
“You have to,” he whispered. “Or I don’t know what I’m going to do.(…)”
There are so many things with this especially, which did shape the whole novel and the perception of it and other characters, that I found astoundingly bad.
This is a book in the YA genre. This is a genre that I continue to enjoy, because it was the one I experienced mostly as I started to really enjoy reading, and as of recent years, it’s becoming a wonderful and diverse genre, and one doing far better than it used to. This is a genre for people my age, and people younger. These scenes I have a problem with. While I was able to spot the problems, I’m not sure others would have, and it’s a dangerous line to blur for younger people.
Pushing forgiveness done out of love, when the relationship itself began on deceit is, firstly, not love. Expecting to be forgiven because you love someone, is not a reason alone to be forgiven. I do worry the author has made a mistake, consistently using “You’ve got to” or “You have to” as a way to make a male character feel far more forceful in wanting to be forgiven, and then using guilt to further this. A guilt trip into forgiveness when he was in the wrong just feels like poor writing, or even ignorant writing. People, especially recently, do not have the tolerance for this kind of characterisation and neither do I. I worry this would be behaviour people could attach themselves to and then look for – especially young girls who may enjoy the YA genre – and land themselves in a relationship where their feelings are not considered and their emotions are, effectively, abused.
This pushes the forcefulness of males which comes off very poorly. If a man was telling me I had to forgive him because he loved me I think I’d turn and run as fast as I could and for as long as I could go. This is a stereotype we need less of, as many, many people have coined on to its hindrance on men’s emotional well being, which needs to be addressed as much as hindrance of women’s chances in society, as this scene and beyond it only pushes the submissiveness of Bree, which goes against the rest of her character established through the rest of the novel. She is a character that went to great lengths and seemed perfectly capable of standing up for herself – until giving in and forgiving when Halley got hurt in a later scene, and then jumping straight back into action into her much stronger female role, which had already been established.
I’m angry. And I expected better of a book published so recently (2016), and a book written by a woman. A part of me feels let down, and I’m hoping the next book I read will bring my spirits back up.
I still give the book 2 stars. I did still enjoy that it was set in my hometown, which made it slightly more enjoyable, and on some level, I did enjoy the sci-fi story.