Book Review: The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
By Ray PalenMarch 3, 2021
During the crazy and stressful climate we currently live in, it is nice to spend a few hours escaping into a good book. I often enjoy novels that take me to other parts of the world, especially when real-life travel is presently so restricted. The latest novel from Tasmanian author Robbie Arnott meets these needs. The Rain Heron is a nice mix of psychological thriller complete with enough fantastical elements to truly make the narrative feel other-worldly.
Ren is a female farmer trying to remain solvent in a land ravaged by a violent coup d’état that has turned the simple act of farming into a dangerous undertaking. She survives by hunting and trading in a far less traditional way than she was brought up just to survive. Things are going well enough for Ren until one morning she emerges from the cave that she sometimes calls home to find a group of soldiers tending to a fire they have built outside of it. When the soldiers begin questioning Ren, she goes quiet. It is five years now since the coup and the military is not to be trusted.
The soldier in charge is a woman named Harker. She informs Ren that they are seeking a fabled creature referred to as the Rain Heron—a heron much larger than normal with the physical appearance of falling raindrops and with the ability to shape-shift. Possessing this creature will allegedly give one the opportunity to control the weather, a power mere mortals do not have. Ren, like most of those who live off the land, respects the Rain Heron and would never turn the creature over to the military. Things get tense and eventually go unbelievably bad when Harker and her team learn that Ren not only knows the whereabouts of the Rain Heron but has also been misleading them to steer them away from it.
Part two of the novel suddenly switches to another protagonist in a section of the story that is obviously set well before the coup took place. The character is a young girl named Zoe and it will take the reader several pages until you realize this is an earlier version of the soldier we had been introduced to as Harker. It is a nice piece of characterization by Arnott to present us with a character who we have already seen as the primary antagonist and set them up as a naïve, pure version of themselves. Zoe is such a likable character that when we flash forward again to the present-day narrative for a final confrontation between Ren and Harker it will provide a much different perspective for the reader.
When the final part of The Rain Heron kicks off, we see the mythical creature as more of a metaphor for the changed world versus the old one. As things wrap up, the reader gains some hope that there might be a good or at least fulfilling ending to this thrilling fable.