A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Rook by T. Strange

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Rook is sent to the alien prison planet B-226 for twenty three years for killing his husband. The average life span on the hostile planet is three weeks. His plan is to live as long as possible to honor his husband’s wishes, and then die and join him. Upon landing he is partnered with a prisoner named Stevie to help guard the miners, or he won’t get fed. There is a strange thrill in fightening off the local fauna and surviving, or having a specific daily purpose, that Rook didn’t count on. Their days are stressful, consisting of violent episodes bracketed by fighting boredom for concentration. Through his POV, the third character is Rook‘s dead husband Carlos. Stevie walks a fine line of teaching Rook how to survive, being wary of any attack or signs of madness setting in, using him for company and sex, but trying not to care too much in case Rook gets killed like all his previous partners.

I found this plot enticing as I personally enjoy when an author explores the psychology of a character. This is a new author to me so I really didn’t know what to expect. The main question here was always going to be, are they just together because of the circumstances? While that is actually asked, finding out the real answer takes the whole book. Bonding over shared trauma isn’t bad as a short cut, as long as it’s not the only thing there. While they are just trying to survive, they don’t actually know anything about each other’s previous lives. What they do know is: how they each react in an emergency, if they are trustworthy and to what extent, how each deals with conflict and triggers, and what factors motivate or de-motivate them. I would argue not knowing facts about someone’s life, or even their particular thoughts at any given moment, is less important than knowing if they can be counted on. I loved that there were so many issues touched on like the complications of choice, personal sovereignty, stages of grief, and PTSD. Having said that, it’s shocking that no one even makes a mention or an attempt at trying to deal with said mental health issues.

There are parts of this book that at times reminded me of movies like Predator, Reign of Fire, Pitch Black, Starship Troopers or Enemy Mine. I mention movies because I saw this story as pictures in my mind. That the author manages to sustain a feeling of suspense and terror for such a large (80-85%) portion of this book is amazing. There are breaks in the tension just when they are needed. There are breaks in the setting, just when they are needed. The focus of this book is very narrow, with the characters in their own world, creating a very intimate rather than epic feel so without the breaks, this could have been stifling. As it is, I felt like I went through everything with them.

Romance is not the point of this book. Finding someone you love and can get along with during one of the worst times of your life is another thing altogether. Sex is also not the point of this book–mostly it is fade to black, or described as a celebration of survival or stress relief as a realistic part of Rook‘s life and circumstances. While there is a HFN/HEA here, it is done in a realistic way consistent with the flavor of the novel as a whole. I am so thankful this author didn’t just slap a bow on it and negate all the work it took to get to the end of this journey. I thought this story was great and complete as it is.

The cover designed by Aisha Akeju is evocative of desolation and beauty. You can clearly tell it is science fiction. I do appreciate the use of the jungle as both reality and allegory.

Book Details:

ebook
Published February 7th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684311804
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: Rook by T. Strange

Standard

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.

Buy Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook
Published February 7th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684311804
Edition LanguageEnglish