The Rookery: A mixed bag, but enjoyable

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Rookery by Deborah Hewitt science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

The Rookery (2021) is Deborah Hewitt’s sequel to her debut novel, The Nightjar, which I described in my review as having many of the issues one expects in a debut novel but that also left the reader eager to see what she did next based on her “imaginative content and writing style.” The sequel has its own issues but does improve on its predecessor. Some inevitable spoilers for book one to follow.

“The Rookery” itself is an alternate near-copy of 1930s London, “built as a sanctuary for the Vaki, a magical race of people” fleeing persecution in Finland at the time of the Crusades. The four original “master builders” each had their own magical specialty (water, building and stone, fire and metalworking, flora and fauna) and founded four Houses devoted to their specialties. One of the plot threads involves our main character, Alice, taking the tests to enter House Mielikki, the flora and fauna house. The tests are more challenges than exams, and unlike your typical midterm, failure can mean death, as we see illustrated in a horrifying scene early on.

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAt the center of the Rookery is the Summer Tree, described by one character as “what keeps us stable … We’re anchored onto London. And the tree’s roots stretch through every part of our city … Without them the city would crumble.” This bit of info is important because the major plot thread is a desperate attempt to stop the Summer Tree’s sudden unchecked growth, which is causing earthquakes, devastation, and death, and is on course to utterly destroy the Rookery. Alice is heavily involved in the attempt as House Mielikki, as one might expect, is the one charged with monitoring/tending the Summer Tree. If trying to survive her House tests and saving the Rookery aren’t enough, someone is also trying to kill Alice, or least scare her; the death cult that almost killed her in book one while trying to usher in an apocalypse is still around; questions remain about Alice’s parentage (her father, we learned in the first book, is sort of the Lord of Death); she has a boss-from-hell in her research assistant job; and she has mixed feelings about Crowley, her PROPAI (Possible Romance Person with Annoying Issues). [I know, sounds like a fintech company; I’ll work on it.]

One major improvement is that in The Nightjar, Alice had a tendency to opt for the worst (or the not-as-obviously-good) choices, mostly it seemed because the plot needed her to. That issue is mostly gone in The Rookery, with the plot feeling less contrived (save one expository scene where I couldn’t figure out why the information-doling person was divulging the info) and Alice feeling more naturally (and wisely) active. The high stakes, both personal (her tests, her family background) and external (the possible destruction of the Rookery), add a nice bit of tension, which ratchets up nicely as the tests get more dangerous and the Summer Tree’s growth more explosive and deadly. There’s more of a focus on birthlines than I generally prefer, the ending felt a bit rushed, and I’m generally not a fan of the “our elite group uses entry challenges that kill many candidates” plot point, but in general the plotting and pacing were strengths of the novel.

Deborah Hewitt

Deborah Hewitt

Alice, as noted, is a less contrived character here, and probably more engaging/likable as well (not that likability is a requirement). Her mentor Bea is a wonderful secondary character and feels fully fleshed out. Other side characters are given shorter shrift, and as with the first book, I wish we’d spent more time with them, so they came more alive as people rather than plot aids, especially her friends. The will-she-won’t-she romance with Crowley doesn’t take up a lot of space, which is a good thing as it’s one of the weaker aspects here: perfunctory, not particularly interesting, and honestly unnecessary. Part of me even wonders if down-not-so-deep Hewitt herself feels that way, as the writing seems to diminish at those points as well, becoming more clichéd, more mundane, almost as if the writer isn’t all that interested in the thread herself.

Outside of those segments, the style is solid. The sequel’s prose isn’t as lushly beautiful as the prior book, which I was sorry for, though part of that can be attributed to the more mundane settings.

Like its predecessor, therefore, The Rookery is a bit of a mixed bag (though with some clear improvements), but in the end the positives outweigh the negatives. And I like Hewitt’s writing trendline.

Published in August 2021. Return to a magical alternate London as Deborah Hewitt continues the Nightjar series with The Rookery. After discovering her magical ability to see people’s souls, Alice Wyndham only wants three things: to return to the Rookery, join the House Mielikki and master her magic, and find out who she really is. But when the secrets of Alice’s past threaten her plans, and the Rookery begins to crumble around her, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to save the city and people she loves.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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