First Lines: The heavy blade hung high above the prisoners, glinting against the stars, and then the Razor came down, a wedge of falling darkness cutting through the torchlight. One solid thump, and four more heads had been shaved from their bodies.
I bought this book ages ago from Scholastic and it just kept showing up on my shelf. It was the kind of thing that I wanted to read, for sure, but it never seemed like I was quite in the mood for a dystopian that almost doubled as a historical fiction.
In the Sunken City, a place once known as Paris, a revolution is about to tear the city apart. Anyone who opposes the new regime is beheaded swiftly and efficiently. But occasionally, prisoners disappear from their cells with only a red-tipped rook feather left behind. The Red Rook is a hero to the innocent and a criminal to the government. Across the sea on an island called the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to Rene Hasard could be the only thing that saves her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook lands on her doorstep, Sophia learns that her fiance may not be all that he appears to be. Which is only fair, seeing that Sophia has her own secrets as well. As the Red Rook grows bolder, Sophia and Rene find themselves in a dangerous–and deadly–game of cat and mouse. Will the hunt for the Red Rook tear them apart…or bring them together?
Generally, it was pretty good. Sophia is a strong female character, who we quickly learn will not be the quiet, simpering miss that some of the men in her life wish she would be. She’s not going to sit back and let others control her. I liked that she was a fighter. And then there’s her fiance, Rene, who is not what he seems. He is a character that takes some warming up to because he’s so layered, but it’s worth it. He’s a great example of giving depth through characterization.
I will admit that the beginning does seem a bit slow and takes a while for the action to get going. There’s kind of a lot to set up, like the fact that this story is set hundreds and hundreds of years after what they call “the Great Death” and that they have anti-technology pacts to keep them from using or creating machines. (They believed that was the downfall of the Ancients, which means us.)
Truly, it does really just feel like a skewed retelling of the French Revolution, which the author says was her inspiration to this story. You have a France in turmoil, divided by class and ruled by a man who incites that fury, feeds on it. You have men in power who are completely delusional and have started their own religions which put them in power as a high priest of sorts. Anyone (and I mean anyone) can be killed by the Razor at dawn if you irritate the wrong person. And that’s all why the Red Rook exists, stealing prisoners from the Tombs and freeing them under the noses of the bumbling officials. It’s like a French Revolution version of Robin Hood, basically.
The closer you get to the end, the more twists and turns there are. You start questioning motives, things you thought were facts, and how certain things are going to work. I liked that a lot got revealed that I wasn’t expecting. Actually, I just liked that I couldn’t call how it was going to end.
I also really like that this is a standalone dystopia. How often do you see those? It wraps up everything in this one book, which means that there’s a lot of action, excitement, and yes, a few deaths. But what’s a war if there aren’t sacrifices?
While it wasn’t perfect, it was really enjoyable. I had a lot of fun reading this.