Friday, March 17, 2017

Rook by Sharon Cameron

Reviewed by Ambrea
The Sunken City—formerly Paris, the grand City of Lights—is a place of danger, desperation, and despotism.  Ruled by the corrupt Premier Allemande and the bloodthirst LeBlanc, the Sunken City is brimming with discontent and revolution—and, at the heart of it all, is the mysterious Red Rook who spirits people from their cells and wreaks havoc against the Premier’s puppet government.

Not far from the heart of France, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy celebrates her arranged marriage to the wealth René Hasard—celebrate is too strong a word, however, for the girl making every last attempt to save her family from financial and political ruin.  She’s bound and determined to keep her family safe, to make a difference, even if it means sacrificing herself—even if it means facing enemies she never hoped to see on Commonwealth soil.

I absolutely loved Rook.  I found it in the library purely by accident, sitting atop a display of random young adult novels in the teen section, and I immediately connected with the cover.  I recognized the image of Paris on the jacket, replete with a skeleton of the Eiffel Tower rising in the distance.  It looked familiar and yet, at the same time, it was completely and utterly foreign…and, well, I just couldn’t help myself.

I was immediately intrigued by the Red Rook.  Sophia lives an intriguing double life as both the daughter of an impoverished aristocrat and a revolutionary in a crumbling France.  (Don’t worry, I’m not ruining anything for readers by mentioning Sophia’s alter ego, as her identity is hinted at on the book jacket and confirmed within the first couple of pages.)  She’s a clever, capable heroine, who manages to save lives and, ultimately, lead a revolution.

Personally, I liked her.  But, then again, I have an affinity for such impressive heroines.

And, while I was a little suspicious of René at first, I eventually grew to like him.  He and Sophia work well together.  They both have (possibly deadly) secrets; they have unusual skills that help them fit quite nicely into their line of work; and they make a living thwarting the government.  I liked seeing their relationship develop, and I liked seeing how Sophia reacted to someone who had many of the same skills and talents as she.  He was the perfect foil for her character and, more to the point, he encouraged her abilities more than most men would.  (A man after my own heart.)

Granted, I wasn’t a fan of the love triangle—René and Sophia harbored a mutual affection, while Spear and Sophia have a long history.  Although Sophia views Spear as more of a brother, their relationship is, nevertheless, complicated—but it wasn’t as bad as say, Twilight.  Or Vampire Diaries.  Or Something Strange and Deadly.  Or any number of other young adult fanasty/sci-fi romance.

And, admittedly, I disliked the pace of Rook.  For the most part, I enjoyed Cameron’s novel.  I liked the intermingling of tense, suspenseful story-writing with undertones of political intrigue and romance, and I liked how the story would flip between characters and give me insight into what’s happening at any given moment.  I liked the semi-omniscient quality of the story.

However, I hated how it seemed to slow toward the end of the novel.  I think Rook became bogged down by too many twists and turns, by too much build up.  It would have fared better if it had trimmed out a little of the fluff—like the budding romance between Sophia and René that takes literal weeks, or dwelling on LeBlanc’s myriad political aspirations, or the various preparations the group makes to depart for the Sunken City—and focused more on the core of the story.

I realize it had to lay out the plot, but it seemed to take just a little too long to fit the pieces together.  Personally, I would have liked a little more detail about what happened to Paris and society as a whole.  I know about the Great Death, which apparently was a near-extinction level event that practically wiped out the human race, and I vaguely understood that the so-called “Ancients” were essentially us in the modern world; however, I didn’t quite understand what happened between the Great Death and the present day of Sophia’s dystopian world.

One character even postulates some theories, such as a reversal of the magnetic poles of a weakening of the atmosphere, which could have led to the chance in climate and the gradual decline of humanity, but I don’t have much detail.  I mean, what happened to Paris that it became the Sunken City?  How and why did the Commonwealth build itself into some semblance of Regency-era England?  What happened that technology was completely and utterly wiped out—and why was it so distrusted?

I would have liked a little more detail, and I was a little disappointed when I didn’t find it.

But, overall, I really liked Rook.  It reminded me of Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.  While it does fall under the rather broad label of dystopian YA fantasy (think Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Life as We Knew It or, even, The Giver), I really enjoyed Cameron’s novel.  It felt original.  I also enjoyed the characters, the unexpected twists and turns, the ambiguous references to the past, the complicated political and social climates of the Commonwealth and the Sunken City.  It’s quickly become one of my guilty pleasures.

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