Map of Blue Book Balloon

5 August 2021

#Review - The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

Cover design by Neil Lang

The Rookery (The Nightjar, 2)
Deborah Hewitt
Pan Macmillan, 5 Augusy 2021
Available as: PB, 480pp, e
Source: Advance e-copy
ISBN(PB): 9781509896493

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of The Rookery via NetGalley.

In the followup story to The Nightjar, Hewitt returns to her magical, alternate London - the Rookery of the title - where members of rival magical cliques, each with different gifts, compete to work marvels.

Following the disappearance and subsequently the death of her friend Jen, Alice has settled into her new life: by day, she is research assistant for the irascible Professor Reid (Alice sees herself as assisting with research, while Reid regards Alice as her assistant), at night she studies for the entrance tests to join House Mielikki, whose members are skilled in magic involving plants. Much of the action taking place in the Rookery itself, the story is perhaps rather more grounded in everyday life (for certain values of "everyday") than its predecessor, following Alice's state of mind, and her cooler relations with Crowley, after the revelations and tragedies of The Nightjar.

All is, however, not well. Alice herself is ailing, her inheritance as a daughter of the Lord of Death clashing with the life force of House Mielikki. Equally worryingly, the balance of the Rookery itself seems to have been upset, causing damage - sinkholes, floods, and collapsing buildings - that nobody knows how to prevent. And, most sinisterly of all, somebody is targeting Alice. We're reminded that the Rookery is not a safe place and that her background and the story so far have left others with reasons to distrust and dislike her. 

Much of The Rookery is, then, focussed on Alice trying to learn more about her background and her place in Rookery society, hampered not only by those attempts to harm her but by what seem like systematic efforts to bury the truth. It would be spoilery to say too much here, but I found the portrayal of a young woman discovering who she is, what has been done to protect her, and the sacrifice made for that, actually very moving amidst all the busyness of a fantasy novel, the danger and the risks Alice runs  here. Acceptance into Rookery society doesn't means she has has free rein to ask questions or go where she likes, and finding out the truth requires her to break rules that could have her expelled from House Mielikki if she's exposed.

A lot of the action in the book follows Alice's unravelling of the past, and therefore involves her tracking people down and putting together clues - rather than being action-driven. I really enjoyed that (I worked out quite a lot of what was happening) but if you prefer your fantasy crammed with desperate combat, this one may not be for you. Not to say there aren't exciting action-y episodes here, there are. But they're not, I think, actually the point: as you will recall from The Nightjar, Alice bears a heavy burden in that her soul, unleashed, would be fearfully destructive - so the nightjar of the title, a sort of projection of Alice's conscience, serves the purpose of keeping her power under control. This means that combat and destruction are always her last, worst choice.

Overall this was a satisfying and enjoyable companion to The Nightjar, filling out aspects of the world that were hinted at there and giving Alice and her life time and space to develop (including a couple of rather steamy romantic scenes). 

Notable for scenes in which the current state of affairs is referred to as a 'shitastrophe' and for the fact that one of the magical houses took care, decades ago, of accessibility requirements by enchanting their stairs to transform into ramps when a wheelchair approaches, this book takes place in a well-imagined and livable fantasy world, a place with real depth and peopled by well-rounded and diverse characters. (I particularly enjoyed the richly textured construction of the fictional Rookery, echoing London landmarks and London history but always with its own particular twist).

I'm not sure whether Hewitt plans further books set in the Rookery, but I'll be there for them if they come!

For more information about The Rookery, see the publisher's webpage here.

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