Review: Rook Song by Naomi Foyle

Rook Song

Series: Gaia Chronicles #2

Genre: Science fiction/dystopian

Published on/by: February 5th 2015 by Jo Fletcher Books

This edition: Trade paperback

Notes: My review of Book One of this series can be found here. This book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review contains some plot spoilers for Astra.

Synopsis:

Astra Ordott is in exile. Evicted from Is-Land for a crime she cannot regret, recovering from Memory Pacification Treatment and a painful branding, she has been given sanctuary in Non-Land by CONC. The Council of New Continents is charged with providing humanitarian aid to the diverse inhabitants of this toxic desert refugee camp, but while the other officers take the region’s poverty, hunger, endemic diseases and disabilities in their stride, Astra is appalled. She’s not just plagued by memory loss and punitive headaches, she’s also homesick for Or and struggling to cope with a world she finds barbaric and deeply unjust.

Astra’s way out is to focus on her own personal quest: to find her Code father, avenge the death of her Shelter mother and punish those who betrayed Hokma. But not even the CONC compound director, the ambiguous Major Thames, can protect her from the hawk-eyed attentions of her old enemies. And in this disorienting world of windsands, shifting roads, mutable loyalties and competing agendas, Astra has no idea who she can trust: her childhood friend Lil, her new allies at CONC, the revolutionary Non-Landers – or no one at all?

“Have you ever read a book that impressed you so much you had no real idea what to say about it…? This is one of those.”

So began my review of Astra this time last year, and if my mind was blown by that book then I’m not sure there’s even a word for what this sequel has done to it.

When the book begins, Astra is employed by – and will eventually come under the protection of – CONC (the Council of New Continents). She’s still suffering the effects of what IMBOD did to her; her time in the neurohospice has left her unable to even think about the people she left behind without experiencing extreme pain. It wears her down fast, and when Astra is finally brought to the attention of CONC’s leader, Major Thames, she’s found alarmingly close to throwing herself from the compound walls. Not the most cheerful start, but if this opening is emotionally unsettling, then that’s par for the course so far with Astra’s story in general.

As it progresses, ’emotionally unsettling’ is a pretty good, if perhaps mild, way to describe what Astra has to endure even now that she’s free of IMBOD (or is she…?). Life in Non-Land isn’t what she was always told it would be like, naturally, but on the other hand it’s bad enough for someone as sheltered, and as stubbornly set in her own ways, as Astra has been. She may be coming to terms with how manipulative IMBOD are where life in Is-Land is concerned, but Astra’s views of the world, and of how the world should be, are taking real shape as she starts to see more of it. Stubborn as she is, she knows what she thinks, even if she’s not quite sure what to believe anymore.

Here is where the story really puts the weight behind its punches. The political landscape is laid out with marvellous intricacy, but it’s in Astra’s interactions with her colleagues, the friendships she starts to form, and in her troubled opinions that we get to see all the shades of grey that come with it. Then there’s the rest of this book’s cast of characters.

The book switches from chapter to chapter between various points of view, introducing us to some new characters and enriching this picture of post-apocalyptic life beyond the sheltered corner taken up by Is-Land that we saw before. Peat Orson, Astra’s former Shelther-brother, is now a fully-fledged Sec-Gen in training with IMBOD. Enki Arrakia, leader of the Youth Action Collective (or YAC), is a charismatic, passionate, yet troubled young man who personifies much of the growing frustration felt by the youths of Kadingir (the rickety town where much of this story takes place). Una Dayyani, the Lead Convenor of the Non-Land Alliance (N-LA) thinks of herself as a proud lioness, and this should tell you plenty about her before we even get started… And there’s Major Akira Thames, the CONC Compound Director. As the ones caught in the middle, CONC are basically trying not to fumble a ticking time bomb here, and the Major is the public face of the Council.

All of these characters and their interweaving stories, even leaving out their connections to/interest in Astra, were fascinating to me, but the one who sticks with me most is Major Thames. On the surface, what Foyle has given us is a person of non-binary gender in a position of authority. Dig deeper, and what we’ve got is such an individual trying to assert that authority during a political uproar in a land that’s both diversely populated and, as people often are, stubbornly resistant to change.

Does any of that sound familiar?

And all this, before we ever get to the part that Astra will eventually play in it all. She has her heart set on her own goals – she just wants to find her Code father and finally have her own questions answered – but whether she’ll ever be allowed to achieve them remains to be seen. That probably goes for everyone who plays a part in this story, but as its centrepiece, Astra is the one we need to be focused on, and so it all has to come back to her. Cue “the ancient Prophecy”, which is touched upon throughout the book. Cleverly, though, Foyle leaves it wide open to interpretation, and this is not a high fantasy story where there’s clearly a divine guiding hand at work. Is the prophecy real, or is that endgame being orchestrated, set up like another political power play? Much more to the point, what will Astra make of it? Will she believe it, or not? Will it matter if she does? Right now those answers are unclear, but that is one of the many things I hope the next book/the rest of the series will deal with.

This whole book is a literary punch in the gut, but it’s also an eye-opener, if one cares to have one’s eyes opened. It’s hard-hitting, but it’s poignant and incredibly thought-provoking at the same time. It would have been easy for all of the content in this story to become a hot mess, but Naomi Foyle has a mastery of plotting and a way with words that’s truly remarkable. I say this a lot, but in this case I absolutely, wholeheartedly mean it – you need to read this book.

 

 

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