Book review: Zodiac is ‘interestingly different, deeply compelling, and modern’

When I enter a bookstore or a library, I usually head straight for the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction section. The covers are filled with bright colors and bold titles. The section is always filled with books of popular series such as The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare and Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. I have read hundreds of fantasy and science fiction novels, so I have hard time finding a new book that is really interesting to me. When I read through the descriptions, they all sound similar: When X moves into something or other town, Y feels a strange connection to X. Then Y has to make a choice between X and Z, her male best friend since childhood – and the guy who is hopelessly in love with her.

So when I looked at the inside cover of a book and saw the description – interestingly different, deeply compelling, and modern — that’s when I knew I was going to love Zodiac by Romina Russell.

The description itself focused on the main character, Rhoma “Rho” Grace, the way she reads the stars (that distinguishes her from everyone else), and the attack on her home planet Cancer and its moons. At only 16 years of age, Rho is thrust into a position of power, while dealing with a mythical enemy that no one believes exists. In this book,  each zodiac sign represents a House with its own planet, and each House has a Guardian. The Guardian, who tends to be the best at reading the stars in each House, either leads their House or advises the leaders of their House. After the attack and seeing most of her classmates die, Rho becomes one of the youngest Guardians.

Rho is also the only one who can sense the danger that threatens all 12 Houses, the Guardian of the Thirteenth House (a story that has been reduced to a children’s story, which makes people doubt Rho). Besides her suspect theory, people doubt her because of her youth and trauma she just endured. She has two companions who travel with her on her adventure to warn the other Houses — Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra who provides the ship used by Rho to travel the galaxy, and Mathais Thais, a twenty-something major in the Cancerian guard who teaches her about the other Houses. Rho, Hysan, and Mathais travel the galaxy spreading Rho’s warning about the threat to all 12 Houses.

Besides having a captivating storyline, the novel is beautifully written;; Russell did a wonderful job of depicting the character’s feelings:  Rho’s love for her family and her dedication to protecting everyone, Hysan’s love for technology and his faith in Rho, and Mathais’s dedication to Rho and his internal conflict about whether he believes Rho.  Each of these emotions is very present and these emotions define each character.

A subtle love triangle between Rho, Hysan and Mathais is developed. It is slowly built; Russell plants seeds of romance in each scene but not so much so that it is the only thing that the reader sees. One last thing Russell did well was depicting the passion each House had. For example, when they were upset, they made rash decisions and placed blame on one person.

My only critique would be that ending felt underwhelming. The whole book was leading up that moment and, to a reader, it feels like you blink, and it’s over. Other than that, I liked the ending.

The ending also left me with a lot questions unanswered, which just means I have to pick up the second book, Wandering Star. Overall I’m glad I picked this book up. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its differences from other books I read means it makes onto my favorites list alongside Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas and The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater.