Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rook by Sharon Cameron

Title: Rook
Author: Sharon Cameron
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
Dark and foreboding.  I love the image of Paris in ruins and the iconic Eiffel tower decimated.  The fact that the only things in color are the title font and the tip of one feather add interest and call attention to those elements.  The rain of feathers is a beautiful way to fill the sky. 

The Gist:

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.


The only hope for Sophia's family to maintain their ancestral home and escape debtors prison is for her to marry Rene Hasard and have him pay for the privilege.  However, unknown to all but her inner circle, Sophia spends her nights creeping about prison halls releasing those who would face the Razor for nothing more than being on the opposite side of someone more powerful than they.  As Sophie, she must allow others to determine her fate, but as the Red Rook, she is the master.  As she tried to meld her two lives, the cruel and determined LeBlanc is coming ever closer to discovering the identity of the Rook and everyone Sophie loves is coming closer to the Razor.

"The heavy blade hung high above the prisoners, glinting against the stars, and then the Razor came down, a wedge of falling darkness cutting through the torchlight."

From the very first line, we are introduced to the darkest of atmospheres.  A polar shift has caused the world's technology to fail and satellites to fall from the skies.  Humanity found themselves unable to cope without the machines they had come to rely on and thousands died.  Eventually, the people of Paris turned their backs on the evils of technology and engaged in hyper-vigilance, watching their neighbors for any sign that they were disobeying the new laws put in place by a government who punished whole families by putting them to the Razor, an even more terrifying weapon than the guillotine of the past.  This results in a strange and fascinating blend of modern architecture and remnants with a return to historic style of dress and the subordination of women.  There are descriptions of how inventions like cars and elevators have been re-purposed without the use of machinery.  These add an interesting layer to the story and result in some truly unique world building.

Sophia is a strong, independent woman in a world that requires her to submit to the will of the men in her life.  Despite this, she maintains a secret life and an attitude of self-reliance that makes her an engaging main character.  She is smart and witty when she is angry and even more so when she is fighting.  Sophie is set up for a love triangle between her childhood best friend, Spear and her new fiance, Rene.  However, refreshingly, this never truly materializes.  Sophie has been blind to Spear's interests and, once she discovers them, remains uninterested and tells him so.  Spear appears to represent the man who presents himself as a "nice guy" but has his own ideas for Sophie's life, ideas he has never consulted her about.  He becomes incredibly controlling, always believing that he knows best and that he can manipulate the situation to his own benefit and that, eventually, Sophie will thank him for it.  As I got further into the novel he become more and more controlling and I was very happy to see that Sophie was not falling for his "I have your best interests at heart" act.

The antagonist of Rook is truly mad and through his obsession with fate the novel makes an interesting point on fanaticism and blind faith.  LeBlanc puts his trust in rituals of his own creation and asks the same question again and again until he receives the answer he was looking for.  He then uses this to justify horrific evils and to advance his own position.  His unpredictability leaves the reader on the edge of their seat as we never really know what he is going to do or how much he really knows.  

The first half of the plot is, admittedly, a little slow.  There is a large cast of characters to get to know and I found myself losing track of who was playing what role.  The second half, however, makes up for it.  Just when you think you know who to trust, Cameron changes the entire game and leaves the reader guessing.  She has a fantastically clever way of switching between characters, using short paragraphs and ending each with a word or phrase that is repeated in the next.  This adds a sense of urgency and suspense and allows the writing to flow beautifully.  

Rook explores a world that is no longer able to rely on technology.  It is a fascinating view into what society might devolve into when stripped of the things we have come to depend upon and features some wonderfully strong, independent and noteworthy characters who fight for justice and humanity. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Sex: Kissing, allusion to intercourse
Violence: Beheadings, knifeplay, swordplay, attempted strangulation
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: Drinking

This and other reviews can be seen on Young Adult Books Central


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