I loved Astra, the first book in this series – see my review here – so was delighted when I had the opportunity to acquire the sequel.
Astra has found work in an ancient fortress in Non-Land: headquarters of the Council of New Continents, the global body charged with providing humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of this toxic refugee camp. Recovering from a disorienting course of Memory Pacification Treatment, Astra struggles to focus on her overriding goals – to find her Code father. But can the CONC compound director, the ambiguous Major Thames, protect her from the hawk-eyed attentions of her old enemies? And who in this world of competing agendas can she trust? The deeper Astra ventures into this new world, the more she realises her true quest may be to find herself.
The first book left Astra in a hard place – I was shocked at the speed at which events overtook her, so was eager to dive back into this detailed, complicated world. But initially I struggled and needed to really focus on what was going on with whom as this story is told in multiple viewpoint, with Astra being one of a group of protagonists. But I’m so glad I persevered – it is worth it.
Once I worked out the cast of characters, the tension steadily builds up, as the bubbling dissatisfaction amongst the landless refugees finds a new focus. Foyle is certainly a gutsy writer, who is unafraid of dealing with subjects not often discussed in science fiction. A number of her characters are born with deformities due to the environmental pollution and she describes how they cope in the camp where they live with inadequate medical assistance. Given the issue of the Syrian refugees, a lot of events and settings in Rook Song are scaldingly topical. Foyle’s sure-footed, vivid writing takes this story into another, slightly mystical level and I enjoy the fact that some of the people and happenings are left ambiguous – I still cannot make up my mind which side Lil is on… But, then Astra hasn’t a clue, either, as various political groups decide to make her a pawn for their own ends.
Astra lingered with me, despite the fact that I read it several months ago and since have been engrossed in a number of other great books – so far 2016 has been a golden year for the sheer quality of my reading choices. Although I only recently completed Rook Song, I’m guessing this one will have scored similar inroads upon my inscape and I recommend this challenging, well written series for anyone interested in complex and immersive stories.
All the views I have expressed are my honest opinion, in exchange for an ARC copy of the book via Netgalley
I liked the look of the book cover and scooped it up, thinking it was probably a YA dystopian science fiction adventure along the lines of The Hunger Games trilogy.
Astra is seven years old, and like every child in Is-land, all she wants is to have her Security Shot and defend her Gaian homeland – oh, and become a famous scientist. But there’s more to the shot than governing body IMBOD claims. Then Astra’s Shelter mother, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, comes up with a plan to fool the authorities, allowing Astra to avoid the shot. As Astra grows up, so the danger increases. Her perfect world is not all it appears, and if she can’t navigate the web of lies that surrounds her, their deception will cost both Astra and Hokma everything.
As you may have gathered from the blurb, it isn’t YA and this ambitious, thought-provoking take on a dystopian future paints a depressingly credible picture of environmental collapse. However, a small group of eco-followers manage to survive due to having shed most of the conveniences of modern living and as our consumerist culture crumbles, thrive to the extent they are allowed a tract of desert land in exchange for their genetic breakthroughs, enabling food crops and animals to effect a recovery.
Astra lives in this apparently idyllic community where family life has been extended and strengthened by spreading the parental load and most adults and children go around naked, or ‘skyclad’ as they call it. Some of the phrases and words Foyle has made up are a delight, as she shows a world where children are taught sex at school and trained to be kind and co-operative to each other. However, Astra is steadily diverging from the rest of her peers, who were given the injection and she feels less connected with them and a lot more critical about everything going on around her.
Foyle jumps forward a couple of times in this coming-of-age novel and as events go hurtling towards the book’s dramatic conclusion, I couldn’t put it down. Foyle’s decision to start the book with Astra as a child gives her the opportunity to explore aspects of the community and ponder its history for the benefit of the reader without appearing overly naïve – but that only works if her depiction is convincing. It is. Astra is an interesting protagonist, particularly as she is earmarked to be different and special by her adoptive mother and then becomes so for all the wrong reasons. I like the fact she is prone to fly off the handle and become unreasonable – young teens often do.
What this book doesn’t offer is foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action as it gradually builds to the climax, but it has certainly wormed its way into my head – I find myself thinking of Astra and her community at all sorts of odd times – and I will definitely be tracking down Rook Song, the second book in the series, in 2016.