Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paperback Release & Book Review: ZODIAC by Romina Russell

In honor of ZODIAC coming out in paperback today, here's a review to celebrate! 

Rhoma Grace, a 16 year-old Academy student from House Cancer, has an unusual way of reading the stars. She seeks out stories in the sky rather than taking the steps necessary for accurate predictions. And she can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life.

So when a violent blast strikes Cancer’s moon, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens, including its beloved Guardian, Rho is more shocked than anyone when she is named as the House’s new leader. But, like a true Cancer, she loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, so she accepts.

The catastrophes don’t stop at House Cancer. When House after House falls victim to freak weather events, Rho starts to suspect that Ochus, 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, a major in the Cancrian guard- must travel the galaxy and warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? And who can Rho trust in a world defined by differences?

I picked up a copy of Zodiac by Romina Russell for two reasons: I’ve always been OBSESSED with astrology, and it was a staff recommendation at a local bookstore. After some initial uncertainty due to all the new terminology (and therefore confusing pronunciation!), I became hooked and have been dying to get my hands on book two: Wandering Star. Luckily for me, Penguin sent Carmen an ARC, and I’ll be reviewing it for this blog ahead of the release!

Zodiac is set in a futuristic solar system, where people are segregated by Zodiac Houses that are based on common traits and values found in that Zodiac sign. The world Russell crafted is very creative, unique, complex, and fascinating. Her execution of the characters based on their Houses is phenomenal, and the best example is Zodiac’s protagonist: Rho, of House Cancer, who oozes Cancer traits of nurturance and selflessness. It was obvious to me while reading Zodiac that Russell built this world well, putting a lot effort into truly understanding what would drive her characters, which was my favorite thing about this book.

In terms of characters, I really loved Rho. She’s tough, smart, and instinctive. She realizes the weight of the role she’s thrown into, and takes those responsibilities very seriously. I love that she suffers from self-doubt, like many of us do, but unlike many, she has the courage to continue believing in herself and her convictions when most people are laughing at her and dismissing her. I love that Rho is basically all of us at one point or another: faking it until we make it. It makes Rho real and relatable.

Can I talk about the love triangle for a second? I love love triangles. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Edward or Jacob? Wickham or Mr. Darcy? Gale or Peeta? Tom or Gatsby? And now, Mathias or Hysan? My inner emo teenager relates to wanting someone older, a bit mysterious, and unattainable the way that Rho wants and sees Mathias, so I initially leaned that way. Mathias is protective and devoted to Rho wholeheartedly, and I like that it takes him awhile to come to terms with his feelings. But, Mathias is also flawed. He can be cold and stubborn, and it’s not great that Rho feels like he’s basically placating her at times. On the other hand, Hysan encourages Rho to trust herself and BE herself. He believes her when most don’t, and has her back by choice rather than duty. However, at times, he acts like a cocky playboy who likes to stir the pot and cause problems. I’ve seen a fair share of those guys, and, in the spirit of T.Swift, the high is often NOT worth the pain. That said, it’s surprisingly difficult for me to pick a team in this fight, which is a great indicator of a love triangle done well!

A lot of people rip “typical” YA books for having love triangles and making the protagonist be a special snowflake, and at first glance, Zodiac is at-risk for these criticisms. However, what I really love about this book is how it can take those common pitfalls, turn them around, and make it work in a way that doesn’t make the reader want to roll their eyes. Yes, there’s a love triangle- but Rho realizes that the Galaxy is at stake, realizes it’s inappropriate to be worrying about boys, and focuses on doing her job. Yes, Rho is special in that she can read the stars without using an Astralator (a tool used to read the stars and predict events)- but that’s because her mother taught her and made her practice these skills from a very young age, unlike most others.

Another departure from “typical” YA books is the antagonist. Ochus is very menacing, mysterious, and worst of all, untouchable. Even when he’s not on the page, you feel his presence. I love that the threat of Ochus is very specific; even though there are figurehead villains along the way, it’s not a grand system of people like those seen in Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and to an extent, Twilight, that’s threatening the characters. Ochus is a solo threat (to our knowledge!), and he is absolutely scary enough on his own.

Again, can’t wait for Wandering Star! I have many questions (which are spoilery, so maybe skip this paragraph!) that I need answered ASAP: Is the building army responsible for everything, and does Russell have me fooled, believing in Ochus as well? Where is Rho’s mother? I feel like she has to have some special purpose in the grand scheme of things, and we’ll see her again. Is that person really dead? Who can we actually trust? Will Rho get her title back? Can the Houses ever work together again after that disaster? Can Russell’s covers BE any more beautiful?

Finally, in the spirit of the Zodiac, I’m House Taurus, and I’m probably the most Taurean Taurus you’ll ever meet.

Unfortunately, the main characters in Zodiac were not from House Taurus, but I’m hoping I see more of my people in Wandering Star! Taureans are awesome, if I do say so myself! A Taurean would be a great character in this series because it’d be extremely difficult to find someone more loyal to those they care about (which would be SO valuable to someone like Rho, who needs people on her side!). We’re also very upfront about our feelings and won’t let others walk over us, which I think is underrated. We’re strong, patient, observant, and can soak up information like a sponge. Of course, we have some traits that can be considered less desirable, such as perfectionism, extreme stubbornness (we are bulls, after all), being too critical of others, jealousy, but who doesn’t?! Fingers crossed for a major House Taurus character to pop up in the series, because I think it’d inject a very interesting and dynamic person into the Zodiac world of strong personalities that are constantly intersecting in a dangerous, untrustworthy world. 

Romina Russell is a Los Angeles based author who originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a teen, Romina landed her first writing gig—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not working on the ZODIAC series, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a Virgo to the core.

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