I love reading because stories allow me to feel things I haven’t always been able to let myself feel in real life. When I read, I feel what the characters feel, provided they’re written well. And man, did this book make me feel… Don’t expect warm and comforting from Anna Burke. When she says she loves to torture her characters, she is not kidding. She does it with such beautiful talent that I can’t even be mad at her. Compass Rose is her debut novel, the inaugural recipient of the Sandra Moran Scholarship, and one of the books I missed when they were first released. With the sequel, Sea Wolf, coming out on the 27th of July, time had come for me to finally read it.
Compass Rose was born facing due north, hence her name. Gifted with an unerring sense of direction, she’s an invaluable navigator. When Admiral Comita of the Archipelago Fleet, who is also Rose’s best friend’s mother, sends her on a very secret mission with mercenaries, Rose isn’t prepared for what she’ll discover nor for the people she’ll meet and even less for how strongly she’ll come to feel about them even as everything she holds true comes apart.
I’m sure I would have loved this book just as much if I’d read it when it came out, but right now, over a year in a pandemic, with almost non-stop rain in some parts of Europe and deadly heatwaves around the world, gives climate fiction an even more acutely realistic feel, even with pirates and krakens and legendary queens.
I could write endlessly about the characters but I won’t. They’re complex and I won’t spoil even one layer. One word though: isn’t reluctant chemistry hot? When you know you shouldn’t be attracted to that person but can’t help it? Yes.
I won’t get much more into the world-building. It’s efficient and plausible and manages to be so without too many details that would slow the action down.
I will, however, praise the writing. I’m French. We’re very proud of our beautiful language, which we believe, arrogant that we are, is richer and more complex than, say, English. The reason I review in English stems from this idea that it’s easier, that mistakes (grammar, spelling, punctuation…) aren’t as heavy, that they don’t have the same consequences. Maybe it’s only a feeling, maybe it’s true. Many books I read use pretty basic vocabulary, which makes them all the more accessible. Once in a while, however, a book will remind me that there are many more words in English, and that it’s possible to write a story that is easy to read and beautifully written at the same time. E. J. Noyes’ Ask, Tell is one of these. Caren J. Werlinger’s books. Elna Holst’s. I’m adding Compass Rose to the list. I’m not saying all the other books I have reviewed so far aren’t good or well-written, there are many ways to tell a story. I’m pretty sure that if I ever write a book, it will fall in that category, the less literary one. Some books, however, bring another layer to the pleasure of reading. This is one of them.
This book has everything: action, romance, politics, angst and lust and longing, pirates and villains, danger, betrayal, and, most of all, kickass characters who will keep you on your toes.