“At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….
Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.
When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.
Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.
But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?”
Very rarely do we come across authors that have this beautiful ability of creating a new world apart from our own. Queen Rowling did it. Sir Tolkien did it. Mr. George Martin did it. And, now Romina Russell is well on her way on achieving it.
This debut novel focuses on a world where the astrological signs aren’t just signs but planets in a universe known as Zodiac. Every planet(or sign) has strengths that are supposed to be contributing to the betterment of the universe. Residents of each planet are defined by the characteristics of each sign. Ms. Russell has taken the wonderful abstract thought of astrology and turned into a physical concept with the help of science fiction and formed a world that is as real to me as this world is.
The story starts with an introduction to Rhoma Grace and her world, her family and friends. Rho is a Cancerian who left her home, not just to learn but to escape her own memories. I got to see her as an average student, her creativity and potential shackled by the traditional educational system.
We see her go through a traumatic experience that no one, let alone a 16-year-old ever should. We see her chosen for a position that most have centuries to learn about!
It’s hard not to like this girl, you know? She is an epitome of every single one of us, with insecurity, sassiness and courage brimming inside her, just waiting for the right circumstances. She is loyal, empathetic and absolutely certain of the differences between right and wrong (and most of the times, she is definitely right!)
To understand the Zodiac universe, you have to know that Astrology plays a huge role in it (Well duh!) but not in the usual sense. Here, every characteristic that you had once associated with a particular sign, becomes a way of life, humans way of defining themselves. (We see the evidence of this, especially when Rho is trying to convince herself to make a decision).
Ms. Russell has created a world that in itself is perfectly self-sustaining and absolutely believable! Don’t trust me on it? Here’s a sneak peek –
This is where the predictability of YA fantasy novel comes in, of course (In negligible amount, I promise!). The world is falling apart, and the fate of it, of course rests on a teenage girl (or boy, depending on the novel in question!), who’s abilities and not to mention ideas, are scorned at by the elders of the race, who “naturally” either have a better option of saving the world or just choose to turn a blind eye to the danger. Of course by the time, the “elders” realize their mistake, lives have been lost, cities destroyed and planets blown up. When will they learn? *shakes head*
Of course, you can’t blame the elders as well. The enemy (or Villain – The word I would use cause it sounds more authentic!) in this case is the old forgotten Guardian of the 13th House, Ochus, who bought disarray to all the planets, thus breaking their trust in each other. Now, that the peace is restored (if only on surface), he has come back, immortal, to bring back the 13th sign to its former glory! Of course, since the millenia has passed, Ochus has remained but a boogeyman to scare the children. No one, believes that he is real. Well, no one except Rho (the story has to proceed, no?).
Rho remembers Ochus from the following Cancerian folk tale.
Rho is given the charge as the Guardian of the House of Cancer (but do her advisors belive in her? Sadly, only after it’s too late!), a task she accepts because she believes in the right of things. A scary encounter with Ochus leads her to embark on a cross-planetary journey to convince other Guardians of the threat.
Who accompanies on this perilous journey? I am so glad that you asked! 😛
Here’s where the two delicious hot arm candies come in – Lodester Mathias, her protector and advisor and Hysan Dax, the secret Guardian of the House of Libra (These men make me drool nd go into orgasmic states, not even kidding!). These two couldn’t be further opposites of each other. Where Mathias is straight and narrow, Hysan is mischevious and fun. Where Hysan is bought up in secrets and is able to lie easily (not for personal gain. He is a good boy, really!), Mathias hates being underhanded and lying. But the one thing they both have in common, their respect and affection for Rho.
I usually hate love triangles in my books. I somehow believe that authors tend to lose focus when more than one love interest pops up. But here, I could understand Rho’s fascination with both Mathias and Hysan and that fascination had nothing to do with close quarters or the thrill of adventure. Rho is a girl still trying to find herself, and in the midst of that difficult journey, she is thrust into a war not of her making and yet has to play the pivotal role in it.
Both Mathias and Hysan were those parts of her that she needed to find and understand. Mathias had the sense of responsibility and stoic-ness that she needs to be an effective leader while Hysan had the confidence that she knew to count upon but had yet to find in herself. My respect and admiration for Rho cemented when she went
“Fair or not, I don’t get to be a girl who mopes about boys”
I actually applauded her then. Cause let’s face it, very few heroines understand that, though love might rank high, in a war like this, it shouldn’t exactly be a focal point!
I have never had any problems picking sides when it comes to love triangles, but here, I was rooting for both of them. Not really hard, once you come to know both of them. If I could, I would totally steal both of them away from Rho,(to be enslaved in my Dungeon of Fictional Loves, but that’s beside the point :P) but I like her too much. So they were safe until Ms. Russell went and did THE THING.
THE THING is the one-act of atrocity that I will never forgive her for (I would tell you what happened, but Spoilers! :D). I screamed and I am not ashamed to admit that tears were wept, tissues were destroyed and hot chocolate with marshmallows consumed in an effort to calm myself down. I had to put the book aside in order to come terms with the heinous crime you committed.
Harry’s reaction on finding about Sirius Black had nothing on mine! My mum thought I was being murdered!
Rho though has a tough future ahead, because now that she has understood Ochus plan, she knows her way forward and that way can only be achieved by uniting all the signs of Zodiac. She has now found her purpose, and boy will it be difficult, but I have a feeling that she will survive and come on top.
“The stars picked you Rho. Humans – in their infinte injustice – have wronged you, but you will find your rightful place again. Your light shines too brightly not to be a beacon for others.”
Hysan Dax, pg 311
This book though has been one of the most enjoyable ones I have read in a while. It has mixed the science fiction with the fantastical in such a way that the concoction is not only a delicious to taste but is full of fun and adventures along the way! (Holy Moses, what is going on with my metaphors O.o)
The writing in itself, was tasteful and absolutely engaging. Ms. Russell debuts with a novel that will be loved across generations, if not for the adventure, then for the wonderfully unique plot!
I have just one last question: How is a poor Indian blogger supposed to get her hands on the ARC of the second novel? And a personally signed copy as well? #indianreaderproblems
5/5 Stars (My first after a very long time!)
If you like your stories full of adventure, a heroine you can love and respect and your hero(es) full of honor and dignity with a plot and a world that is as unique as they come, give this book a try. You will not regret it.