A re-imagined The Scarlet Pimpernel, Rook wraps the classic tale of espionage, heroism, and romance in the packaging of a futuristic, dystopian and steampunk Europe in the middle of a new French Revolution.
The world-building is grounded in the historical events of the French Revolution and the fictional events in The Scarlet Pimpernel. There is a believable and consistent explanation for the unsettled, broken state of the world (and the city-sized crater in Paris). Paris, dubbed the Sunken City on account of the crater, is a hotbed of political intrigue and revolution. The political outline will be familiar to any who studied the French Revolution in school. The twist: some believe technology is responsible for the ills of their society, while others believe it has the power to transform lives in a good way. Overall, technology has been outlawed in Europe.
Tangled in this war between technology and Luddites is a young woman with daring and moral principles. Instead of the Scarlet Pimpernel, we have the Red Rook, a.k.a. Sophia Bellamy. Engaged to the air-headed and frivolous but wealthy Rene Hasard, scion of one of the leading families, she leads a double life – pleasing her family and what Society is left, and rescuing innocents from the guillotine. Rene has his own secrets, though, and the two dance around each other and their secrets as they move toward falling in love.
They are the last people who should be falling in love, since his family and hers have bad blood between them and are nominally on opposite sides of the conflict. Her work as Red Rook puts them on the same side, but as a secret, it is well-kept throughout most of the novel. I agree with Jaclyn, Sophia spent too much time not trusting Rene. She’s one of those heroines who immediately sees the worst implications and motivations behind the hero’s actions. I found it frustrating how often she was manipulated by her enemies. This keeps them apart until the timing is critical. One of the plot devices that increases the tension between the characters and the suspense of the climax, it also makes the relationship seem less evolved.
One of the most interesting aspects of Rook is the idea that history repeats itself. While not a new idea, it is executed on multiple levels in Rook. The story is not just a re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, it plays with the idea of being a successor to the original, the two tales taking place in the same universe. Which is really fun.
If you like this book, and you haven’t read The Scarlet Pimpernel yet, I highly recommend it. As old as it is (written in 1905), I still call it an excellent book to have at the beach.
*Advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
The Scarlet Pimpernel. Enough said.
My Lord and Spymaster, for those who like steamy romance with their historical espionage tales of the French Revolution.