Our protagonist, Astra is in recovery from the Neurohospice we last saw her and is now working in a CONC (Council of New Continents) laundrette. It was at the hospice she suffered a painful genital branding, and Memory Pacification Treatment (MPT) to prevent her from becoming a further threat to IMBOD (Is-Land Ministry of Border Defence), who she defied by avoiding her security shot to become a Sec-Gen (Security-Generation). She is in exile from her homeland of Is-Land, for a crime she could never regret, and has been given sanctuary by CONC in the ambiguous Non-Land. Here she is given the task of providing humanitarian aid to the poverty-stricken region. She uses her new position to begin her quest of finding her code (birth) father, whom she has never met, and seek revenge for the death of her shelter mother, Hokma. Astra finds herself quickly embroiled in a world of mutable loyalties, competing political agendas, and the Istar prophecy that her childhood friend Lil says she fulfils.
The second instalment of The Gaia Chronicles, Rook Song continues to develop Astra’s story, taking the reader through many illuminating, horrifying and overwhelming avenues. There are four political groups that Astra is torn between. Her sanctuary and employer CONC; a group that often sits on the fence in an attempt to prevent conflict and provides humanitarian aid to Non-Land, IMBOD; Astra’s enemy, those who tortured her upon the discovery that she was not a Sec-Gen and controllers of the Gaian army of Sec-Gens, N-LA (Non-Land Alliance); the political group vying for Non-Lander’s rightful access to Is-Land, and YAC (Youth Action Collective); a group of youths gaining political power who worship the prophecy of Istar, and are also seeking Is-Land and Non-Land to become One-Land. It is up to Astra to decide who she can trust, and more importantly, who can ultimately unite the two warring countries.
The layout of each chapter is from the perspective of different characters, who all have a role to play before the end. This is initially confusing as they are often presented without much context, which is given later, and as such makes it a harder story to get into than its predecessor. At the start of the book there is a character list, or ‘Dramatis Personae’, and a map highlighting the key locations in the novel, which helps somewhat but the opening is still difficult to get your head around. The story itself doesn’t kick into gear until approximately halfway through, after the new and old characters have been (re)established and Astra is permitted to begin to explore Non-Land and its cultures. That being said, once the story really starts, it doesn’t let up. The highly politicised narrative is an enthralling and absorbing read, particularly when the development of IMBOD’s Sec-Gen’s is revealed and the devastating effect they have on those who stand in their way.
Where the first book offered a shocking, but somewhat aspirational alternative way of living, Rook Song delves further into the political influence that enables the way of life the Gaian’s are privileged to inhabit. The ‘nonners’ (Non-Land people) present a more recognisable way of life to the reader; through the social constructs of marriage, meat-eating and the use of animal labour and vehicles, but this is not seen as positive or beneficial. Offering plenty of twists and surprises, Rook Song outdoes its predecessor with a more developed story and plenty of conspiracies that pull the reader in. Book one was a comment on how society should live to protect the planet, book two is a comment on how people should prevent international conflict and wars. We can only wait with bated breath to see what book three will campaign for.