Rating: 3 stars out of 5
For killing his husband, Rook is sent to B-226—an alien planet populated by deadly creatures, where the average life expectancy for a prisoner is three weeks. Rook is relieved by the sentence—all he wants is to die and rejoin his husband.
Upon arrival on B-226, Rook is partnered with Stevie, who has beaten the odds and survived for several months. Rook is drawn to Stevie in a way he didn’t expect in the aftermath of losing his husband. Before Rook can untangle the mess of his emotions, the already deadly situation on B-226 worsens, plunging Rook and Stevie into an even more desperate struggle to survive.
I’m really of two minds here when it comes to Rook by R. Strange, especially when rating the story, which I really liked.
It really falls into dividing my review and rating into two categories. The first being the characters and their relationship which was excellent. The second? The world building and the creatures on planet B-226, none of which actually made any sense. So lets get the problematic out of the way first and end with what I loved about Rook.
If you are going to build an alien world, especially one with as important concept as a prison/mining planet whose environment is a death sentence, killing those within days of landfall, the majority lasting only 3 weeks. With such a featured narrative aspect such as this one, then you need to make it and everything on it solid, well thought out, from the atmosphere, land masses, water features, flora, and yes, fauna. If you are going to give us superstar killer fauna, explain why the environment produced them and supports them. Have them make sense physically for the planet and in relation to each other. And once you do that, don’t contradict yourself. As in, yes this creature only comes out in the rain, until oh look, the creature does come out when sunny because you need it to do so for narrative purposes. And really, with regards to the dragons, which breathed fire, the latter made much more sense to begin with. Why would fire breathing dragons (why dragons on this world to begin with) only come out when its raining? Never got that one. Plus there are cannibalistic flying kite/umbrella bats with three mouths, large reptiles I’m assuming that roll like wheels and much more. It sounds more like a child’s book of wacky creatures than a well thought out naturali history for B-226. Yes, Strange managed to make those bats scary but in the back of this naturalist’s mind was much on that planet just wasn’t supported from a animal standpoint or in the author’s worldbuilding. Why not just one mouth with serrated teeth? Three is honestly overboard. Does it go to three stomachs? And for what purpose? From there my mind wanders to things like poisonous plants, (where are they, its an obvious rainforest…) because it can’t be just the fauna that’s trying to do you in.
Plus there was the whole thing about the humans smelling so bad that the animals attacked them but wouldn’t eat them. Ok, surely that idea could have been explored more or exploited by scientists employed by the mining corporation or government or whoever. Develop a scent, etc. Also all the native animals showed the ability to adapt/outthink the invader/human technology to keep them out. Yet there is no mention of sentient beings? Smh. Sigh.
And if my mind is trying to fill in the blanks and worrying over the huge holes in the world building (this is the rarest, coveted,and important mineral in the galaxy and they haven’t done any planetary surveys, just sent in the miners?). More questions than are answered. Don’t give the reader reason for their mind to wander like that. Supply a well reason, beautifully built universe to begin with and the reader’s mind will stay put where it belongs…on the story and the characters.
Well, enough of that. You get my drift.
What I did like was T. Strange’s character’s. Rook and Stevie, a murderer and thief sentenced to die on B-226. Again, the author didn’t do a great job with their backhistory. It’s muddy for both men. You never really get the full story on what happened in their pasts, just vague hints for Rook enough to piece it together and nothing really for Stevie for them to be sentenced to death.
What makes the story is the day by day building of their relationship, through the stress, fear, isolation, and anxiety of their situation. They could die at any moment and often are fighting for their lives. It’s those scenes and their dynamics that the author does well and makes Rook work. At least until the dragons show up again. Then its back to questions all over again, one species in one location for the entire planet…etc. Uh no. Again I’ll stop.
So I like the people, not the world. Sounds about right. For those that like scify fiction, I think that Rook by T. Strange is a quick read you might want to check out. I was given an unedited version so I hope the editor might suggest a few changes. Check it out and let me know.
Cover by Aisha Akeju is colorful, wonderful and matches the story.
Published February 7th 2018 by Less Than Three Press