A remarkable and utterly inventive novel bursting with intrigue and romance, from Sharon Cameron, acclaimed author of THE DARK UNWINDING, which USA TODAY called "spellbindingly imaginative." Centuries after a shifting of the Earth's poles, the Sunken City that was once Paris is in the grips of a revolution. All who oppose the new regime are 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. Daring intrigue, delicious romance, and spine-tingling suspense fill the pages of this extraordinary tale from award-winning author Sharon Cameron.
Sophia Bellamy is the Red Rook. Proclaimed as a saint and a man by the general public, she is neither. She is a woman, and she is human. She is cunning, and she believes she is at the top of the food chain until she meets René, who somehow manages to tick every bit of her off and light her up in the stomach and the heart. She is an easily likeable character to cheer on, and readers will definitely love her or envy her (or both).
René is a very exciting character, who has an amazing introduction. Sassy, pompous, conceited, handsome, and highly arrogant, he is all that and more. He is one of those who hides behind multiple masks, and he is absolutely delicious to read. His multiple layers hides one of the most amazing characters in Rook.
The plot unravels slowly, and we start from one of the Red Rook's missions. Sophia frees thirteen prisoners rather brilliantly. The real meat of the book is when René's cousin manages to catch up to the Red Rook. That is when the politics and hidden agendas start messing everything up and throwing everyone into a huge pit of slimy worms. Boy, it is awesome to see everything unfold wildly and hilariously. Though there is a sense of urgency and suspense, the humor of the book isn't lost somewhere between the lines.
Some random ramblings: 1) The ending is one of the best parts of the book. Everything closes up nicely, and more about the world of Rook is revealed. 2) René's mother proves to be the best character of the entire book, second to none. René and Sophie are tied to a close second. 3) The villain is worthy of hate.
Overall, ROOK is a long, long read. It has about four hundred and fifty pages, and despite some minor setbacks, it is a whirling book with lots of actions. There are some great characters, and for once, the mother-in-law is an amazing businesswoman who is ten steps ahead of everyone, not the old hag who dislikes the daughter-in-law. ROOK is recommended best for those who wish to stick their heads in a new world, enjoy some nice and light (or heavy) banter, and a bittersweet ending.
Rating: Four out of Five
At the center of Rook, the protagonist, Sophia, stands right alongside the fiercest characters in literature. Through her, Cameron provides a heroine without a savior complex nor a reckless need for adrenaline. Instead, Sophia expertly balances strength, a determination to do good in an area she calls home, intelligence, and an indestructible joy of feeling free and finding adventure. The delightful witty exchanges between herself and René offer cheeky laughs amidst all the seriousness, and the romantic chemistry from them nearly burns the pages.
Serious issues surround even minor areas of the novel, revealing a story that never tries to tackle an enormous problem but offers opportunities for discussion should readers choose to engage. From Sophia’s father, whose mind is not what it once was, to heavy incarceration rates to choosing officials, there is a wealth of complexity in between these pages.
The world building and voice of the story shine just as strongly as the characters and the themes. The fascinating idea of the future, with influences from The Scarlet Pimpernel, will have readers reflecting on history and the dynamics of humanity over long periods of time. The third person narrative, focusing on various characters, helps the reader see the book’s setting from a variety of viewpoints that ultimately conveys how interwoven lives can become, even in a city.
With a top notch story of politics, the future, and freedom, Rook would be well placed on immediate purchase lists. Readers who have read previous Sharon Cameron works and readers new to the author will find strong characters, a sizzling romance, adventure, and above all, powerful writing.
"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.