Rating: 5 stars
“Rook” by Sharon Cameron is a wonderfully written young adult version of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” This story, however, takes place in a distant future, when the earth’s poles have shifted, causing massive upheaval and a collapse of all technology as we know it. Cameron has created a new world that is really much like the world that we think of as primitive. Her “new” countries have slightly different names, but sound similar enough to be familiar.
England is called the Commonwealth, and France is Parisian. Paris has become a sunken city, and the poor are in the process of killing the wealthy and the aristocrats via the Razor, a machine very much like a guillotine. The society has also banned any and all technology because the people who survived the original sudden movement of the earth were not able to feed themselves. Their dependence on technology led to the starvation and deaths of millions. So no technology anymore. Not even a grindstone for a mill.
Sophia and her brother Tom have been rescuing the Parisians from the Razor by boldly going into tombs where the prisoners are housed and stealing them away to the Commonwealth. Sophia does the actual legwork, as her brother was injured while in the military. He walks with a cane after suffering a severely broken leg.
Sophia calls herself The Rook, and leaves a black rook feather with red paint on the tip when she finishes a rescue. The Commonwealth requires that sons prove their worth to inherit from their fathers by paying a fee to the government. Usually fathers help the sons with the fee, but Sophia and Tom’s father has squandered the family money. To raise the money, Sophia becomes engaged to a Parisian, René, who appears to be a society butterfly with no brains.
Of course, things are not as they appear, and René is far from a fop. When his evil cousin, LeBlanc, is determined to kill The Rook, who is stealing his prisoners, René gets involved. And Sophia must decide if she can trust him.
Cameron’s world-building extends even to the time of day. Clocks are technology and therefore never used. At night there are moon, middlemoon, highmoon and nethermoon. During the day there are dawn, middlesun, highsun, nethersun and dusk. But those times are literally based on the movement of the sun and the moon, so from day to day, month to month, the actual time as we know it changes.
Cameron has the very intelligent Sophia explore a different way of keeping time. She explains her thinking, looking at an ancient clock, and her friend says, “You mean that two Ancients could agree to meet at highmoon, wait until a clock says it’s highmoon, look up in the sky, and see the moon still rising?” When she agrees, he responds, “That’s mad, Sophie.” But Sophia’s true love interest says it’s brilliant.
Cameron’s wonderful writing style and creativity are perhaps most clearly demonstrated during the action-filled scenes. She cleverly juggles the different actors in various action scenes and uses her choice of words to connect the actions of the characters. So if, for example, one character’s scene ends with “…and cursed Albert LeBlanc,” the next scene begins with another taking up where the last ended: “Allemande cursed Albert LeBlanc…”
Another example is the end of one scene, “What time do we set it for?” while the next scene starts, “It didn’t matter what time she set if for, after all.” The technique results in a unique but very natural-seeming sense of continuity. The story flows beautifully.
The characters are all carefully and lovingly created, especially the man who has loved Sophia since they were children together. Can a person who does bad things still be a good person? That’s a discussion to be had after reading this book. What is fate? If you make choices, are you fulfilling fate or defying fate by choosing? Does technology harm us by making us less self-reliant and unable to survive if we lose our gadgets and machines?
Excellent story, beautifully written, filled with action, humor, and political adventure — and important historical references. A worthy addition to the YA literature canon.