The Storm

Buy THE STORM by Virginia Bergin

The second book in Virginia Bergin’s post-apocalyptic YA series starts where the first one left off – with gobby teenager Ruby Morris on her own in a world where nearly everyone else has been killed by an extraterrestrial plague bedevilling the water supply (and specifically, the rain).

Brushing off the other survivors she has collected in her travels (including the nerdy Darius Spratt and the mute little girl he’s protecting but knows only as Princess), Ruby continues her endless search for her dad. Despite everything she has seen that suggests a high probability he died bleeding and screaming, she just knows he’s still alive, and that might mean her little brother Dan could be too. And she’s right – but the route that will take her to them is going to go through some very dark places.

The world may have fallen into chaos after the killer rain first fell, but it is no longer quite as chaotic as it was. Crossing paths with an army that is enforcing a new kind of order, she learns there might be a cure, that she might be an important part of that, but that the military might not have the most virtuous of intentions for it.

Ruby herself was the weakest point of the first book in the series. However brilliantly depicted she was, I felt she was a bit too relentlessly obnoxious about everything and everyone. And she’s still got a mouth on her in this book, but in this one we’re allowed to see what’s beneath that hard shell. Far more vulnerable than she lets on, perhaps she isn’t quite as different to nerdy Darius she tries to convince us she is.

The plot takes some deranged twists, but also meanders around a bit, and the ending comes quite abruptly. Indeed, whilst things come to more of a close than they did in the first book, there are some rather significant unresolved threads that suggests Ruby’s ordeal is not quite over yet. And the novel’s done enough for me to want to check out the next one.

The Rain

Buy THE RAIN by Virginia Bergin

Love me a good story where almost everyone dies early on. Virginia Bergin has found a particularly brilliant way to off her characters – the killer is nothing less innocuous than water. Specifically, rain.

At the start of this YA novel, teenager Ruby has just kissed the boy of her dreams, Casper, in the hot tub at the party of a mutual friend who lives on a Devon farm. No sooner has she begun to recover from that than their friend’s parents are dragging them out of the hot tub. Not because they’re getting up to something they shouldn’t, but because the radio and TV have just gone haywire with warnings to get inside and stay there. It’s about to rain, and the rain is filled with a killer bacteria that causes immediate cell breakdown. Bleeding from all orifices, etc, etc. There is no cure.

Of course rain doesn’t stay in the sky, nor on the ground. It’s soon in the pipes too. By the time anyone works that out, Ruby is pretty much alone. And she’s not good on her own. Scared, thirsty (desperately thirsty), she has to adapt to a life where pretty much everyone she knew is now dead – and where some of those who have survived are the last people she would want to share the post-apocalypse with.

I beetled through this book. Bergin’s version of the end of the world is not completely unfamiliar, but it’s strung together with a plotline that focuses on chasing the most basic of human needs – something to drink. This drags Ruby into plenty of dark scenes, as the bottled water runs out and that jar of old sauce won’t quench the thirst of everyone who tries to grab it. There’s one particularly horrific scene where people swarm on a public swimming pool. Bergin well understands that no matter how bad things could get, there will always be people around who make it worse.

If the novel has a weakness it’s unfortunately Ruby, who is given a somewhat forced character arc that involves her being rather unpleasantly obnoxious for a good stretch of the second half. I felt a bit alienated by her then, but it all comes good in the end – enough for me to want to check out the second book, anyway.