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Rook, by Sharon Cameron: Review

The world has shifted on its axis. Technology and machinery have been destroyed and thrust into Ancient history, replaced by a world where history seems to be repeating itself. In the Parisian Sunken City, a radical ruler is imprisoning the wealthy and sending them to the Razor in droves—at least, those of them who don't vanish mysteriously from their prison cells, a red-dipped rook feather left in their place.

Meanwhile, in the Commonwealth across the Channel, Sophia Bellamy is chained to a fiancée whose only redeeming quality is his money, her last hope of paying her family's debts and saving their estate. What René Hasard doesn't know about Sophia won't kill him, especially where the Red Rook is concerned . . . especially since he is looking for the Rook himself, with a hidden motive of his own.

I'm going to start by making the admittedly bold statement that Rook may be my all-time favourite YA novel. This is the second time I've lost myself in Cameron's paradox of a regressed, old-fashioned future, and until picking it up again I'd forgotten just how complex, skilfully written, and wholly engrossing this book is!

The worldbuilding, for a start, is fascinating: a setting where our world is Ancient, our plastics are black market valuables, and the French Revolution seems to be repeating itself in a new, exciting way. The plot is even more complex, and combined with Cameron's read-between-the-lines-writing style, keeping up with all the twist, turns, and subtleties definitely keeps a reader on her toes. Cameron's style is descriptive, fast-paced, and engaging; she leaves no loose ends and at the close of an intricate plot, manages to tie everything up in a supremely satisfying way.

It's also worth noting that Rook's characters are positively adorable. I often have difficulty enjoying strong female protagonists, but Sophia Bellamy is a perfect blend of capability and femininity, and besides, a very genuine and likeable character. Her relationship with her fiancée, René, is fantastic (especially all their verbal thrust and parry), and the entire cast, from her brother and loyal housekeeper to her betrothed in-laws, all sit on a spectrum ranging from adorable to positively epic. Romance is sweet and balanced perfectly, moving just slowly enough to be realistic, but given in regular doses that kept this reader satisfied and hungry for more.

Content Notes: Some mild innuendo is tossed in on a couple occasions, such as one meaningful reference to Sophia's breeches, but it's sparse and tame at worst. Blood is featured, along with some brief suggestions of disturbing events (such as two cases of throat-slitting) that are stated but not shown in detail, and one rather vivid finger-removal. British expletives like "bloody" are used at intervals, and there are references to Parisian cursing without explicit demonstration. As is true for most mainstream YA fiction, the story features one prominent romance scene—happily, it doesn't go beyond kissing, and the couple is already engaged.

As a writer, Rook is on my list of books to read for inspiration. It is vivid, enthralling, and almost entirely clean—a shining, five-star read!

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