Rook (Allie’s War, book one)
by JC Andrijeski
Reviewed by Eileen Wiedbrauk

While reading Rook, the first book of the series Allie’s War, I found myself thinking a great deal about acceptance and forgiveness. Certainly Allie, the twenty-eight year-old protagonist, and Revik, one of the many alternate narrators, must come accept who and what they are and learn to forgive each other. But I also contemplated the point at which, as a reader, I can forgive a novel’s stylistic oddities and accept it for delivering an awesome story.

Rook opens slowly. The prologue enters us into the story with a description of the fallout from a bar fight that never really becomes important. Next we wander through San Francisco with Allie as she attends a minimum wage job, moans about how her life is going nowhere, discusses the most recent of her many stalkers, and feeds us information about the social and technological differences between our world and the alternate-history of the world she lives in. The milieu of Rook is one where psychic beings known as seers are second-class citizens at best, and at worst, slaves. The novel doesn’t begin to pick up until page 45 when Allie gets kidnapped. Turns out, she’s not human like she thought she was. She’s a seer, but not just any seer. She’s one of the prophesied Four who periodically return to earth and usher in the next apocalypse—it’s a bit much for an underemployed waitress to take in all at once.

This was the revelation I’d been waiting for Allie to finally have.  The one I thought would propel me forward into the narrative. Yet I continued to be thrown out of the story by some of the writing techniques. Between one scene and the next, Andrijeski alternates between myriad points of view. Some scenes come from Allie’s first person narration, others Revik’s third person narration, sundry minor characters get their five pages of narration only to never be heard from again, then there’s the occasional omniscient passage, and once or twice the pastiche morphs to include passages from fictional historical and holy texts. The effect, in sum, was jarring.

Also the early passages explaining the Barrier (the ethereal other plane of consciousness which only seers can enter) are dense, poetic ventures where verb tense shifts and not much meaning is made. Once we get past the initial passages about light, color, and the insubstantiality of time, the description of the Barrier evolves to have a practical application in the story. Once I could understand how it was used, the concept was more familiar than foreign. Perhaps because I’d already been primed by films like Inception and The Matrix to grasp the notion of a secondary world which exists only in the minds of those who perceive it. But Rook has something else in common with those films: it delivers on action.

Just shy of 100 pages into the almost 400 page work, my relationship with the novel drastically changed for the better.

Allie’s musing about light and color morphed into a shoot-em-up car chase, and it was like I’d changed the channel and found myself in the middle of a sci-fi thriller. The psychic talents of a seer finally had uses—like shooting bad guys. Not only that, but now that Allie had at last taken action and chosen a side, there were finally bad guys to be shot. Among other things, this is a book that knows its guns. 

Andrijeski delivers a whopper of an action flick over the next three hundred pages—high speed car chases, kidnappings, mad scientists reanimating the dead, pyrotechnics the size of an ocean liner, even a stint in a whore house followed by trekking cross country on a motorcycle. 

The novel has all the storytelling elements that make a great story.  It has action, certainly, but also engages the characters in a really interesting way which forces them to negotiate their past scarring with their more immediate emotional needs, not to mention that the whole narrative revolves around a larger-than-life struggle between good people and the injustices of the world. I became so enthralled with the story that I found myself forgiving the slow opening and all of the writer’s stylistic oddities because all I wanted was to find out what happened next.

While the novel has some of the elements prevalent in paranormal romance—including a seer-only mating ritual and the ability to make Stockholm syndrome sexy—it doesn’t have the kind of build and sequencing of the romantic relationship which dominates that genre. It’s also much darker and grittier than the majority of commercial paranormal romance on the market now. The easy interweaving of tropes often found in urban fantasy novels about fey with those tropes of near-future science fiction creates a distinct flavor that is not easily categorized. Perhaps it would be best to say this is an action novel for those who enjoy paranormal romance.  Or this is a near-future science-fantasy with romantic themes. Whatever it’s called, it sucked me in and sent me scampering off to get the second book the moment I was done reading.