Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: Rook - Sharon Cameron

Rook by Sharon Cameron
Genre: YA, classic retelling, futuristic
Published on April 28, 2015
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 464
Read From: 4.27.15 - 4.30.15

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 single, red-tipped rook feather left in their place. The mysterious Red Rook is a savior of the innocent, and a criminal in the eyes of the government. 

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

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

Dear Rook,

From the moment I picked you up, I knew I would like you. Part of that may be because of your author, whose previous works I enjoyed so thoroughly that I am convinced I’ll never dislike anything she writes. Ever. So yes, I went into you with a bit of bias, but I did my best to have an open mind regardless. Rook, you were the furthest thing from a disappointment.

It’s about 700 years in the future. The magnetic poles shifted way back in time, causing technology to malfunction and life as we once knew it to cease to exist. The time of cars, computers, and other electronics has sunken into the past as mysterious, forbidden legends of how people once lived. Paris, now known as the Sunken City, is in the middle of another Revolution. Convinced that technology was the cause of the Ancients’ downfall, the Premier of the Sunken City is executing aristocrats who (he claims) are funding laborers to recreate technology and “steal jobs from honest, hardworking common folk.” And like times of old, they are being put to the guillotine. But the wrongly condemned are not without hope. There’s the Red Rook - a mysterious figure who spirits them away from their prison cells before they can be executed. No one knows who the Red Rook is; divine spirit? Ghost? Mortal man? But the premiere wants his head. Only Sophia Bellamy knows the Red Rook’s secret: that he is a she - and in fact Sophia herself. But her plans are put in danger with her upcoming nuptials to a Parisian gentleman whose marriage fee might just save her family from ruin. But like Sophia, Rene Hasard is not all he seems, and suddenly she and her family are caught up in a very dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.

The world building is incredibly well done. While 700 years in the future, society has regressed to a Georgian-style era. Technology is banned, because it caused the downfall of the old society - the Ancients - and it steals away work opportunities for the peasants (so Premier Allemande and his Minstre of Security LeBlanc claim). But like civilizations in the past that have fallen and there’s very little left of them, Sophia’s world has turned things like plastic and old CDs into priceless artifacts. They wonder at what they used CDs for, theorize that little action figures might have been idols or representations of what the Ancients wanted to look like. So much information and history was lost in that 700 years. It was really fun and unique to read about “our society” from this viewpoint, and it actually was very realistic. While it’s hard to imagine, living as we do now, that plastic could ever be a mystery or people would value it, give humans a natural disaster big enough to wipe out records and 700 years to bury the remaining knowledge and maybe it isn’t so hard to believe after all. And of course, with the regression of technology and ways of living, Sophia’s world still had the historic charm that a retelling (or homage) of The Scarlet Pimpernel needs.

In this somewhat strange, yet amazing, landscape we have our main characters: Sophia Bellamy, her brother Tomas Bellamy, Rene Hasard, Tom and Sophia’s best friend Spear Hammond, Orla, and Rene’s mysterious manservant Benoit. On the other side of the spectrum are the villains: Albert LeBlanc and Premier Allemande. I could go on and on and on about each of these characters, but I will try and be fairly concise. I loved each and every one of them. Sophia is quick-witted, strong, and fiery. She has what it takes to be the Red Rook and save wrongly condemned aristocrats and anyone else LeBlanc wants to execute. Her brother Tom was wonderfully supportive and loving. He wants to protect Sophia, but knows that she has to do what needs to be done, so he doesn’t smother her. Orla and Benoit were mostly background characters, but had so much personality. Orla cares for Sophia as if she’s her own daughter, but also doesn’t smother Sophia. Benoit was quiet and mysterious and there was obviously so much more to him, and I just love characters like that. He knew things and turned up in odd places and clearly held more power than you realize, and he was just awesome. Rene is complicated, and I can’t say too much without giving things away. Suffice it to say, he’s a bit of a rogue, but it’s mostly an act, and when we get to know the real Rene, I fell in love. Spear is also another complicated character; I loved his support of the Bellamy family, and then he started to get his own agenda and I stopped trusting him, and in the end I kind of hated him. LeBlanc is a downright intimidating villain. He is totally and absolutely convinced that the Goddess of Fate is real; that he serves her and can hear her wishes; that Fate has plans for him. He becomes obsessed in his role, in killing anyone and everyone he thinks is standing in his way to bringing the Goddess glory. He’s zealous and it’s creepy. Allemande just serves himself, is cold and calculating, almost thinks of himself as a god. But these two together and they make for realistic dictators.

I even liked your love triangle, Rook. It’s safe to say that Sophia’s initial dislike of Rene doesn’t stay that way after a while. But she struggles with realistic feelings. She’s getting to know an entirely different Rene from who she originally met, and she likes this new Rene. But can she trust him? Is this really Rene or just another facade? She wants to trust him, but can she? Meanwhile, her childhood friend Spear has fallen pretty hard for her. And this is where I actually liked the love triangle: Sophia doesn’t feel that sort of love for Spear and she never did. He’s like a second brother to her, and unlike most protagonists in her situation, once Spear reveals his feelings, Sophia doesn’t suddenly start to wonder if maybe she does like him in that way after all. She knows she doesn’t. But Spear won’t take no for an answer, and he starts acting like there’s already an understanding between him and Sophia, and that’s when I started to dislike him. He wouldn’t listen to Sophia’s plans, he went behind her back, he ordered her around, and it just made me like Rene all the more. And that last move Spear pulled. . . .I couldn’t forgive him after that.

Your plot is half world building, half build-up, half action. I love world building if it’s done well, and yours was. I loved the attention to detail Sharon Cameron paid to the real French Revolution and how she incorporated it into this “history repeating itself” scenario. Here’s an author who took the time to research the Revolution ideals and how destructive they were. So many people glorify the French Revolution; try to claim that the American Revolution copied it (which makes no sense, since the American Revolution happened first. . . .). But the American and the French Revolutions were motivated by two very different things; their ideals were almost complete opposites. And in doing her research, Sharon Cameron presented a very real and very frightening regime. The cat-and-mouse game was so much fun to follow; it got to the point where I really didn’t know who I could trust. I followed my gut feeling, but I honestly didn’t know for sure. And the ending is so suspenseful and exciting and perilous that any slowness the plot might have suffered (and I didn’t think it did) was totally justified.

I loved everything about you, Rook. I loved your characters - main ones and side ones; especially all of Rene’s uncles and his maman. I loved your world and the detail and history Sharon Cameron utilized and blended in to create a relatively plausible 700-year-later future. I loved your nod to The Scarlet Pimpernel; enough to be obvious, not so much that it can be called a straight-up retelling. I loved your premise, your twists and turns, your writing style, and your conclusion, which is one of the most satisfying ones I’ve ever read.

Feeling completely pleased,
~ Mara A. ~


  1. I added this to my TBR a couple of weeks ago. Can't wait to read it. Great review.
    Suzi Q., The Book Dame

    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Suzi! :)

  2. I'm really excited for this one and glad you liked it as much as Cameron's first books!


Thank you for visiting The Reading Hedgehog! The hedgie and I love hearing from our readers, so please feel free to leave a comment or question! I always try to reply within a day or two. Please keep all comments civil and clean.