- Title: Rook
- Author:Sharon Cameron
- Publication date: April 2015
- Publisher: Scholastic
- ISBN: 978-0-545-67599-4
- Length: 464 pages (Kindle edition)
- Genre: Dystopia, YA, romance
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.
Following a bloody revolution, Premier Allemande and Albert LeBalnc, his Ministre de Sécurité, set up a government modeled after Robespierre’s Reign of Terror where all who oppose it are quickly locked away or killed and the population lives in fear of the Razor. It’s this same environment that prompts Sophia Bellamy, a Commonwealth gentlewoman, to take on the mantle of The Red Rook and free the wrongly condemned Parisians.
From the very first scene, we, as readers, are thrust into the thick of the action, which reveals Sophia’s true personality. Within a few pages, her character is established as strong, cunning, fearless, and a little reckless as she rescues the Bonnards from prison, while we also get our first introduction to Spear Hammond, her best friend from childhood, Gerard, a lowly gendarme hoping for a promotion, and Albert LeBlanc, the ruthless but just as cunning Ministre de Sécurité who will do anything to ‘restore order’ to the City. From there, the pace slows down as we are transported across the Channel to attend Sophia’s engagement party to Renée Hasard, whom she has to marry in order to save her family from financial ruin. As you might’ve guessed, Sophia isn’t exactly thrilled to be marrying a Parisian stranger, especially when she realises that he is closely related to LeBlanc, which puts her in a very precarious situation. However, Renée surprises her later when it’s revealed that he, too, leads a double life and their relationship just takes off from there. It’s tumultuous, clashing, completely unexpected, but it fits them both and had me swooning often enough. They’re absolutely made for each other and I was rooting for them from the very beginning. Sure there’s a hint of a love triangle but Sophia herself is very clear on who she wants from the very beginning so it’s really just a competition between the two men, and not even that.
I always appreciate having a villain who has a legitimate reason to be evil, but every once in a while it’s nice to have a villain who’s evil just for the sake of it, and Rook provided just that with Premier Allemande. While LeBlanc is guided by his own self-made religion based on fate, Allemande is indifferent to spiritual matters, using only his hatred of technology and those who can fund it, to explain his actions. The fact that he’s only hinted at during most of the book and never actually present, makes his impact far greater when he finally does appear.
At this point I’d like to talk about the way Rook was written. The writing was one of the deciding factors that put this book in the best books I’ve read this year, because there are so many layers to it. First there’s the way it’s written: it’s dense and repetitive but not in a way that drags the reader back; it’s not plagued by info dumps and information about the world is neatly woven into conversations or simple observations. I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to get through the book because I had to actually concentrate on just reading instead of multitasking (believe me, I tried). However it got easier when I started noticing the little tricks Cameron used like tying a specific adjective to a specific character which reminded me a bit of epic poetry where the poet used the same techniques. Then there’s how the foreign characters are written; as someone who speaks French, I could easily identify a French structure behind the English words which is a great way to portray an accent without relying on a phonetic description (I’m looking at you J.K.). Finally, there’s the names themselves; now I don’t usually research the meanings behind a character’s name (unless I’m running out of things to say in a uni assignment) but Renée’s surname, Hasard, immediately caught my eye because it means ‘random’ in French, which absolutely fits the persona he shows to the world. On the other hand, ‘Hammond’ can mean both ‘high protection’ and ‘home’ (depending on where you look) which fits this character’s image since he’s as familiar to Sophia as her home and he often goes to great lengths to protect her. As for Sophia and Tom, their surname means ‘beautiful/fair friend’ which is exactly what both are to Spear. Basically, Cameron chose to name her characters in ways that reflect their relationship with each other and the world around them, which made me very happy because I’m a nerd.
(Are you tired of my gushing over the writing? Because I’m not done yet, sorry)
Now, when I was studying The Scarlet Letter back in spring, I learned to identify the different levels that can coexist in a story. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to be able to identify them when I picked up Rook, in fact I would’ve been absolutely clueless if Sophia hadn’t clearly stated her own ‘acknowledged’ vs. ‘unacknowledged’ plan. It’s precisely because she talks about the two again and again that made me wonder if I could find parallels with other characters, when their own POV comes up. As a reader, I found it fascinating to connect the threads and attempt to weave the bigger picture. Cameron is a true master mind and she lays out a game of chess where each character has their own place in a bigger narrative.
All in all, I loved Rook both for its story and, more particularly, the writing and I recommend it to anyone who wants to read about an 18th century setting some time after 2824. It’s an interesting way to state that history is bound to repeat itself and it also allowed me to consider the potential fate of our current society, if the earth was ravaged by solar flares. I really wish there’s going to be a second book because I’d love to see where Cameron takes the story, and she does leave the ending somewhat open to that, but even without a sequel, this book was great.