Set in a futuristic world, Sophia Bellamy operates as a spy, the Red Rook. Sophia is part of the Commonwealth and is opposed to the policies that govern the autocratic Sunken City. Operating with her brother and a few trusted compatriots, Sophia frees the people that have been imprisoned in the Sunken City for nothing more than having money or being in strategic positions of power. Sound familiar? Yes, Rook is a re-visitation of the French Revolution and The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Sophia’s clandestine activities are hampered by her engagement with the attractive, but lacking in substance, Rene Hasard. Rene is of the upper class of the Sunken City and brings to their engagement a lot of money, of which Sophia’s family is in desperate need. That doesn’t mean that Sophia has to be pleased about marrying such an apparent fool. However, Rene is much more than the flashy clothes that he wears. Is he a spy for the Sunken City? Or is Rene something else entirely and can Sophia possibly trust him?
The premise of Rook is fantastic. I love the idea that history is cyclical. Events that have happened in the past (i.e. French Revolution) are once again playing out in this futuristic society that repudiates the technology of recent history. So much for learning from past mistakes. Due to the way that this future has unfolded, Rook reads much more like a historical novel than a futuristic one, a fact that I appreciate. While I’m not sure that I believe that everything about the past has been lost, I do like the concept that is presented in Rook. Technology is reviled, yet those with money value old plastic pop bottles or CDs as artifacts of the past.
Rook was also an action packed adventure. A great deal of Rook is spent exploring the politics of this world and getting into the minds of the villains. At times, the explorations into the larger political situation slowed the pacing of the book, yet it was a necessary departure that resulted in a more fleshed out world. If you’re looking for a YA read that’s more than a romance, Rook is a good pick.
Of course I have to mention the romance. A big part of the draw of Rook was the fact that it was set up more like a historical novel than a futuristic one. Forced engagement. Check. Secret identities. Check. A seriously great premise for a romance. That said, I have to admit that I was a little let down in the romance department, perhaps I’m reading too much adult historical romance? (A definite possibility). Sophia and Rene’s relationship seemed rather subdued in contrast to the action packed plot. I liked the fact that Sophie was so unsure about Rene, but the bulk of Rook is spent on Sophia not trusting Rene and I would liked to have spent more time when they were working as a team. Further, I think the romance would have stronger had there been more related through Rene’s point of view. The majority of Rook was recounted through Sophia’s eyes, but there were numerous other short excepts from other characters. While reader’s do get some of Rene’s thoughts on Sophia, I didn’t finish the book feeling that I “know” Rene in the same way that I do Sophia. I felt teased with the snippets from Rene’s perspective and I would have really liked there to be more.
Rook was a fun book because it reframes history through a futuristic lens. This one is sure to please historical and dystopian fans alike. While it’s not filled with gadgetry and futuristic inventions it does comment on technology and how the drive to innovate can lead to disaster. However, Rook also begs the question about whether or not we really can change the past. Ultimately, Rook was an innovative and thought-provoking read.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
For another futuristic world that also turns its back on technology try Diana Peterfreund’s For the Darkness Shows the Stars. As a bonus it’s also a retelling of a classic work, this time it’s Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It’s less politically charged than Rook, but a great read with a lovely young heroine.
Liked the spy element in Rook? Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation is a must read. While the Pink Carnation series is not categorically YA, I think most of them are suitable for YA readers (I know I would have read them as a teen). This series is set during the Napoleonic Wars and feature, you guessed it, spies. It is a seriously fun series, and definitely lighter in tone than Rook. Start with book one, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.