Zodiac -- Romina Russell
Book 1 of Zodiac
2014 Release -- Razorbill
Young Adult, Futuristic, Science Fiction, Romance, Space
***This post contains Spoiler Bombs at random and lots of negativity. Read at your own risk.***
I thought this book would never end.
I thought about DNF-ing this book at about 70%. I probably checked out of the book by 50%. I started struggling through by 80%, flipping back and forth to see how many pages were left to read every five minutes. At 89%, I set the book down and started writing this review before finishing the rest of the book because I didn’t want to lose my train of thought. The book was that boring that I had time to formulate exactly what kind of thoughts I wanted to include in my “Oh, I’m probably not going to write a review for this book” review.
And then, how I managed to finish the book after that is a mystery to me.
And then when there was a definite inconclusive cliff-ending, I realized that I could either just move on, or brood about all the unanswered questions I will only get answers to by struggling through another book.
To be fair, the world created in Zodiac was actually very imaginative and held lots of potential. While the beginning of the book wasn’t anything extraordinary, it was grounded with a direction and a purpose. There are different planetary cultures for each Zodiac sign and using Zodiac traits to create these cultures was a nice touch. But as soon as those first few disasters start happening, as soon as Rhoma Grace becomes Cancer’s new Guardian Mother, as soon as the big conflict was revealed, everything in the book just floated around like it didn’t know what to do with itself next.
So let’s get straight to the point with a brief summary:
Rhoma Grace has been specially trained by her spiritual mother (who has left her at the book’s present time, by the way) since she was a child to be unique and different from everyone else in the entire Zodiac Universe. She has learned the history of the galaxy, all the stories and how best to connect with that ethereal plane of intangible energy that they call the Ephemeris to read the stars. She’s different, she’s unique, and she’s special. While Rho is in school training as an Acolyte, she uses what the rest of her tutors view as unorthodox means to foresee things in the stars, in the great Ephermeris that everyone else has to use fancy contraptions called Astralators to read using more “logical” calculations and measurements…
And then disaster starts happening when her own home planet of Cancer is attacked, its four moons destroyed and millions of people killed. Then the Cancer House’s Guardian is killed because she didn’t foresee the attack coming (obviously an experienced Guardian cannot read the Ephemeris like Rho can, because she saw the attack coming).. Then Rho becomes chosen as the next Guardian… for reasons. Then Rho somehow makes contact with the mythical Thirteenth House, Opiuchus and decides that he’s behind all the attacks and that he is planning other attacks as well when she reads the Ephemeris. Then he threatens to kill her if she reveals his presence and his plans. Only no one believes her wild theories and dismisses her on the grounds that she’s emotionally distressed and too young to understand how to read the Ephemeris properly, despite the fact that they had all just elected her to become their House’s Guardian so that she can read the Ephemeris to help guide their lives. But Rhoma is different and she is the only one who can save the world.
So then Rho sets off on a suicidal mission to warn the other Zodiac planets of impending attacks from the invisible Thirteenth House armed with no proof save from what she alone saw, no means of convincing everyone because she’s a newly appointed Guardian as well as a child, an irrational need to believe that she’s the only one who knows what the truth is because there could be no other possibility except what she saw, and an almost obsessive pursuit of her one and only belief of what’s happening… and, oh right, her two-man harem of posturing male sidekicks to build a frustratingly standard YA love triangle with male posturing and jealousies and brooding and angst all around.
Did I miss anything?
The conception of this book’s story, plot, and conflict isn’t bad. In fact, the ideas have potential to build a largely extensive universe using the Zodiac signs to create different cultures on different planets of different types of peoples. I’d even chance to say that the world-building was pretty great, as I’d already mentioned above.
But that’s where it stops. I mean, probably the creativeness of the world-building is the only thing about this book I admired. But even the way each House/Planet of the Zodiac introduced is done in such a flippant way that I stopped caring that Cancers are stubborn, righteous people, that Gemini are creative and innovative, that Sagittarians are open-minded and prone to travel...
It’s just disappointing that the execution of the book was frustratingly banal at worst… and just boring and haphazard at best. Despite there being a looming danger on the sidelines, I never felt the urgency of Rho’s self-appointed mission to “Save the Galaxy” because nothing really happens and nothing really gets accomplished except that Rho seems to bring trouble to every planet she visits.
Rho’s conviction to her mission to reveal the truth was actually quite strong at the beginning. I found myself feeling righteous anger that Rho kept getting blown off time and time again because no one wanted to believe that a sixteen year old, untrained, inexperienced girl could have the answer to all the disaster happening in the worlds (no matter how incredible that sounds). I so badly wanted her to find her truth, save the day, and march up to everyone and sling those “I told you so”s into their faces.
But as the book progressed and Rho continued to half-heartedly argue her point without seeking tangible proof, just rushing into danger without a plan, recklessly and narrow-mindedly believing in only one possibility, and then fizzling her temper and her determination at the slightest show of resistance by other authority figures, I started having my own doubts. And despite knowing that Rho had been attacked by Ochus directly, that she’d received death threats, that a lot of things DID kind of support her theories, I began to question her credibility just like the rest of the Zodiac House Guardians and their Advisors and Ambassadors.
It was just hard to continue rooting for Team Rho when all she had to show for her arguments were words and no strategy. It was hard NOT to question her stubborn convictions when the possibility of deceit was placed on the table. And then even I’m wondering if maybe what she saw in the Ephemeris wasn’t really planted there by someone else just to screw around with her head.
And what’s sad is that a lot of the book’s time was spent traveling and making no progress to Rho’s mission. The one takeaway I got from a good amount of her narration was that she never forgets to mention every single insignificant time that Mathias and Hysan silently brooded while passive-aggressively fighting each other over Rhoma because they’re both in love with her--as if THAT was what was important when we’ve got a big, bad intangible villain and people dying and moons being destroyed all over the galaxy.
I’m not going to lie. I don’t like love triangles. And love triangles in YA are extremely predictable and overly angsty when they don’t need to be. They also tend to become the central focus when there are more important matters to attend to. And in this book the triangle doesn’t even feel like it served a purpose or was even necessary.
In fact, on an aside, a lot of things that Rho narrates about with her flashbacks and her revelations and philosophies just don’t seem to serve in ANY way to propel the story’s haphazard progression.
This book’s most frustrating point was really the fact that a whole lot of nothing happens for 70% of the book. And then when something DOES finally happen, the entire organization of Planetary Ambassadors and Guardian Figureheads explode like they’re rallying some sort of first world protest rather than fighting a war against an enemy that they cannot even see.
Save from a few attacks by persons unknown and Rho’s encounters in the Psy with Ophiuchus, no one ever actually finds concrete evidence that the Thirteenth House even exists and where it would be. Ochus only ever appears in Rho's Ephemeral readings, described as a cold, evil entity at best, with no depth of character except for the fact that he's hell bent on destroying the Zodiac for revenge or something like that.
Even I started having problems believing this guy existed at all.
I get that Rho was right and Ophiuchus is behind all the attacks and that he probably DOES exist and the Zodiac must work together to save each other. I get that Rho finally gets her “I told you so” moment and it’s a big deal to her and her boy sidekicks. And I get that there’s supposed to be something really global and symbolic about uniting the entire Zodiac in a single cause for survival. (Which, by the way, characters don’t hesitate to emphasize repeatedly that only Rho could have done something like that because no other person has done such a thing in centuries and that is what makes Rho so special.)
But the actions leading up to the first launch of the Zodiac’s attack on Ophiuchus feels so ill-planned. I mean, okay, believe Rho because she’s probably right. Use her as a mascot rather than a leader to get everyone hyped up for battle. Spout glamorous B.S. about unity and shit like that. But planning a war on an invisible enemy that just two chapters ago everyone agreed was just a children’s legend seemed to merit more of a planning period and some semblance of intel reconnaissance and at least some sort of “Meeting of the Minds” type of deal before blindly heading out into the first offensive attack with a really juvenile war strategy.
These people didn’t even know who they were going to war against because Rho was the only one who had ever seen him in the Ephemeral plane. These people are supposed to be revered political leaders, but they were acting out and rallying like a bunch of unorganized rebels. And what's also strange was that Rho was supposed to be a fairly integral part of their battle plan, but she was never invited to sit in on any of the military war strategy "meetings" that supposedly took place.
It all just seems so illogical that I found myself wondering if there was another conspiracy lurking somewhere ready to spring in and wipe out the entirety of the Zodiac’s planets altogether. And then there was some sort of a conspiracy, just something I hadn’t expected, but also something I wasn’t at all surprised about either.
I wanted to DNF this book after the halfway point when it started to get boring. I wanted to DNF again at 80% when things got out of control and stopped making sense. I even wanted to DNF at 89% after I finished writing the first draft of my overly-extended rant/review. But I made myself trudge on. And only because I have issues dropping a book I’ve put so much time into following, with hopes that things will come together and prove to me that there was a point to all of it in the end.
Final Thoughts: Setting aside a lot of the strange inventions being slung out left and right; setting aside the fact that I didn’t bother dwelling on whether or not these things were even plausible even within the scope of a futuristic time-frame; setting aside that the people of the Zodiac Galaxy use the stars to foresee occurrences in the future, but blow off old myth and legend as unorthodox… Even setting aside that Rho really needed to build a backbone, maintain her determination with more assertiveness, learn how to NOT clam up and keep quiet when someone contradicts her, learn how to form better strategies, and get her priorities straight…
Zodiac had a lot of potential to launch into a good story. The beginning wasn’t exactly wonderful or anything, but it was grounded, and sailed in a good direction. But then we spend so much time not getting anything done except for becoming more frustrated and more doubtful that the rest of the story really just came off boring.
It’s not a terribly written book. It just seemed to have a concept, a decent introduction, a vague direction… and then nothing else.
However, it DID remember to insert everyone’s favorite YA romance cliches:
1. A makeover scene so the girl can look beautiful in the middle of a disaster.
2. A love triangle and struggling romance developments as millions of lives are at stake.
3. Beautiful YA main characters that the side characters can’t stop staring at as well as jealousies blossoming among our youths in light of an impending war.