This is one of the more interesting stories that I have read in quite a while. The author takes an ancient story and makes it new with some interesting updates and twists.
Drought is the story of Ruby, a member of the Congregation, a group of people living in captivity in the present day. The Congregation began in the early 1800’s, when the inhabitants of a small town experienced persecution and left to find a place where they could live peacefully (sound familiar?). Unfortunately, Darwin West followed them and enslaved them. The Congregations job became to collect Water from plants, leaves, and trees in the woods with a spoon and a cup. But this is not just any Water, as it has healing properties, and can extend life. In fact, the members of the Congregation, by receiving one drop of Water per week (Communion), are upwards of two-hundred years old.
The Congregation submit to this slavery because they are waiting for Otto to return. Otto is a man who came out of the woods and gave the Congregation hope. For a reason that is not entirely clear, he leaves, but he leaves behind four vials of his blood. As it turns out, it is his blood that turns ordinary water into the precious Water. He also leaves behind a daughter, Ruby, whose blood has the same power. In Otto’s absence, Ruby’s mother leads the Congregation, also keeping Ruby under tight control, for reasons that are sometimes questionable (does she love her that much, or is she more concerned with the power of her blood?).
Everything changes for Ruby when a new Overseer arrives. Ford is handsome and young. He does not relish the cruelty required of him. The job of the Overseers is to enforce Darwin’s edicts and keep the Congregation compliant, including incredibly severe beatings with chains. Ford has his own reasons for being an Overseer, however much he finds the job distasteful. Although he is supposed to be the enemy, Ruby is drawn to him and to the glimpse of the modern, outside world he provides.
This reimagining of the story of Jesus, along with a touch of the story of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt is something I would not have thought I’d like. Typically Christianity turns me off (it’s good for some people, but I just can’t get on board with it), but Drought presents it in a way that I really enjoyed. I loved that the new savior is a young woman, and that she is strong without a man. Although Ford shows her what she is missing, she is the one who makes the decisions that change her life.
The end of the story leaves room for a sequel, but I also think it would stand well on its own. This is written as a young adult novel, but it has enough substance that I think any adult would enjoy it.