Nathan’s Review of Salt in the Wound by Benjamin Aeveryn
Expected Publication: 9 May 2023
Series: Book One in the Rainfallen Series
Genre: Post-apocalyptic fantasy
Our world is lost to time. Only our myths remain.
Centuries after the rain turned, civilization is a distant memory.
Once rain was a symbol of hope and harvest. Now it brings only death. Shadowy rainwights form in rainfall, hunting for victims with their long teeth and claws.
Humanity survives in sheltered cities and canvas-covered towns. Travel between these patches of limited safety is rare and dangerous.
It’s what Galahad lives for.
While seeking a lost cache of salt—a fortune he plans to use to build a shelter over his hometown—Galahad is betrayed by the friends he holds dearest.
They leave him for dead. Unfortunately for them, he lives.
Torn between seeking justice or revenge, Galahad knows one thing for certain: that treasure is his, and he’ll do anything to reclaim it.
Review of Salt in the Wound
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Salt in the Wound is a gripping debut novel set in a post-apocalyptic London where dangerous creatures appear in the rain, where to be caught in the rain means almost certain death. This has caused a massive collapse of society as people will do anything to protect themselves from the murderous wights, leading Galahad and his friends to search for a rich treasure of salt – salt that could pay for permanent protective structures for their settlement. Salt in the Wound is perfect for fans of The Last of Us looking for their next post-apocalyptic setting with flawed characters surviving in a harsh world.
And what wonderfully complex characters there are. Galahad is the main character, and I’ll be completely honest that in the beginning I was expecting him to be bland. All I could think was “here is another heroic main character that will somehow stumble his way into success in this dystopian future”. How glad I was to be wrong. As Aeveryn peels back Galahad’s layers, we find a character who is entirely flawed. He has good intentions (trying to find a way to build a shelter for his community), but is narrow-minded, angry, and broken. He is dead-set on his mission and believes that everyone should work in favor of his goals despite the people around him having their own wants and needs. That are certain points in the book where Galahad is flat-out unlikable, giving him the emotional complexity to “carry” the novel in a way that most characters cannot.
Aeveryn surrounds Galahad with equally complex characters, most notably Elaine and Fay. While Fay gets more screentime, I want to focus on Elaine because she was such a fascinating character. She is a great example of a strong female character who is not a “strong female character” while also providing great disability rep. Elaine only has one leg, and the way that Aeveryn allows this to inform her character without dominating her personality was really cool to see. She obviously has certain struggles in a post-apocalyptic world that her able-bodied peers do not, and there is definitely some built up aggressive feelings about that, but she never lets it define her or keep her back. Readers looking for some disability rep should definitely give this book a glance!
Throughout Salt in the Wound the characters get themselves into a bunch of sticky situations. How could you not when there are rain-monsters and other dangerous creatures lurking? With few words Aeveryn is a master at building tension. I’m not the type of reader to get scared or tense as I am reading a book (attribute that to my mom who had me watching adult horror movies since I was a toddler; I have nerves of steel!), but every time that a character felt a drop of rain I got that sense of dread. There are a few sequences in this book that gave me goosebumps. The rainwights are genuinely terrifying and Aeveryn perfectly balanced their presence in the book. There are plenty of nail-biting scenes where the rains come, but not so many that they lose their exciting impact.
I also want to say that this is how you do worldbuilding without info-dumping. Aeveryn doesn’t hold the reader’s hand as we are immersed in this post-apocalyptic world; there are no bloated character conversations in which they say things they would already know, no “lessons” from a mentor to a student, or any of the other awkward worldbuilding cheats we often see in fantasy books. Aeveryn throws readers into his dystopian version of the future headfirst, but at the same time quickly earns the reader’s trust. At no point in the book did I feel lost in the narrative or desperately seeking out the smallest crumbs of help from the author. Instead, I relished in exploring this post-apocalyptic landscape as I oriented myself in this new world order. Aeveryn masterfully dripped out information as the world came into focus.
Will you understand absolutely everything about this world by the end? Absolutely not. One of the key aspects of the book is that Salt in the Wound is pretty insular and almost suffocatingly claustrophobic (and I mean that as a compliment!). The characters are tied to particular places because they must always be prepared to shelter from the rain. We don’t know what is going on in other parts of the world. How are communities in less rainy places faring? What does the global political structure look like? At this point Aeveryn isn’t concerned about these things because the characters don’t care about these things. Salt in the Wound doesn’t follow the sociopolitical elites, but rather just people trying to survive in a rapidly changing world. Their concerns – family, community, safety, survival – are what are paramount here, and the small parts of the world we are privy to in the book are directly related to these concerns.
There were only a couple of things that kept this from being a five-star read. The first is that the ending felt rushed and therefore fell a bit flat. Other than a couple of plot/character reveals, the book didn’t naturally build to a climax. The pace of the book remained relatively stagnant even as the story built to its endgame. Now, obviously this is only the first book in a series and so I wasn’t expecting resolution, but there was really nothing at the end that specifically energized me. I didn’t walk away from the ending feeling any strong emotions as the book sauntered rather than sprinted to the conclusion. Did this make me want Book 2 immediately any less? No way. But I also lost out on the reader’s high you get when you read a really great ending.
But maybe this was the entire point. As always, I will avoid spoilers here, but I will say that the characters end up in…..not so great places emotionally as the final pages run out. While the book begins with our main characters, particularly Galahad, revved up and ready to go to better the future for himself, his family, and his community, by the end he finds that these larger structural changes are a bit harder to make. As the reader, the melancholy I felt matched Galahad’s increasing nihilism. Aeveryn put me in the same emotional space as his characters, which was jarring and disappointing as I first closed my Kindle but has caused me to reflect more on the book and its characters as time has gone on.
The other small quibble I had with Salt in the Wound is that there is a plotline about one of the characters hunting a dangerous beast that didn’t quite capture me. I loved everything about the rainwights that this other creature just read as a bit of a worldbuilding tangent to me and distracted the book from the cooler stuff that was going on. Maybe the context for the monster hunt will become clearer with future books, and there was some really great character development as this particular storyline progressed.
Despite just a few hiccups, Salt in the Wound is an engrossing and page turning post-apocalyptic story that isn’t afraid to explore the messiness of its own characters. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the Rainfallen series has to offer.
Concluding Thoughts: Perfect for fans of The Last of Us, Salt in the Wound is a gripping post-apocalyptic fantasy set in the world where getting caught in the rain is a death sentence. Propulsive and tense, Aeveryn introduces us to a cast of broken and complicated people fighting for survival and a better life. The ending doesn’t quite land due to a lack of an exciting enough climax, but it nicely leaves just enough crumbs to keep you clamoring for that next book. Highly recommended for fans of broken characters, worldbuilding without handholding, and tense actions sequences.