The Rook was a very enjoyable dystopian romance using many themes from The Scarlett Pimpernel. This book succeeds in being far less saccharine than Orczy’s 1905 Edwardian adventure and there is very creative and well thought-out worldbuilding in this dystopian future. Familiarity with the Pimpernel plot isn’t needed but there are interspersed throughout very clever references for those who do know the story well. s much as I really enjoyed Rook, it did feel overly long at nearly 500 pages. Author Cameron gives her characters room to breathe and grow but it is at the expense of pace and flow.
Story: In a world devastated by the shifting of the magnetic poles, civilization has learned over the century to survive without technology. The Commonwealth (England) has embraced Luddite values while Paris reels under a heavy dictatorship and whispers of revolution. On the British Coast, Sophia Bellamy and her brother use their resources to liberate and ferry imprisoned Parisians before they can be beheaded by The Razor. But their father has mismanaged the estate and now Sophia must marry to save the family. Parisian fiance Rene Hasard is not what she expected but he will soon become embroiled in his fiancee’s exploits: but can he, the cousin of the fearsome Le Blanc, Minister of Justice, be trusted? Or will he betray Sophia, known as The Rook, and she will lose not only the estate, but her family as well to The Razor?
Sophia is a strong character who is given room to reason and be effective. She isn’t saved by her brother or Rene but neither is she foolish or given to histrionics or over-the-top drama. Readers of Cameron’s previous books, The Dark Unwinding series, will appreciate that once again we have a strong, dedicated and intelligent heroine whose actions are never overplayed. It’s a pleasure to read a female heroine in a romance who is not ‘too stupid to live’ or given to doing stupid things just to be saved or create a plot.
Because this isn’t an homage or retelling (the reason for the Pimpernel theme is revealed half way through the book), the characters don’t necessarily correspond with Orczy’s book. Rather, there is a grounded historical basis for the story, which I found intriguing. From Robespierre’s goddess (now Le Blanc’s goddess of fate) to an emerging Napoleon in the sidelines. It is truer to the French Revolution than Orczy’s book ever was.
Amidst the historical details are a richly imagined dystopian world. Paris collapsed into its tunnels, creating a Sunken City and Upper City. Technological items are curiosities, some collected, others melted to make more useful objects. Parliament wants Sophia’s estate to build a port in case of war against France and there are quite a few maneuverings and surprises by the end of the book for that goal. The plot is much richer than a simple narrative of Sophia’s escapes and falling for her fiance.
There were a couple of quibbles for me: although I appreciate a writer who allows a story to unfold, I have to admit I found the book over long. There were too many scenes that really didn’t add to the story and instead felt indulgent. As well, a multitude of POVs kept pulling me away from Sophia’s more interesting storyline. Too many actions just didn’t feel well thought-out by the characters and were conflicting: at times they were too smart and other times you had to wonder why they weren’t uncovered sooner with the obvious clues. Neither of those issues ruined the book for me but I think Rook would have been dramatically better with a much stricter editing/editor. Finally, I admit I loved the dandy Percy from Orczy’s book and missed that in Rook – Rene never seemed to be as wonderfully cutting or over the top mincing as Sir Percy.
In all, I really enjoyed Rook and highly recommend the book. An interesting and strong heroine, imaginative storytelling, and well conceived plot/story/worldbuilding make for a great read.
Reviewed from an advance readers copy provided by the publisher.