I am rather fond of fantasy that uses the Zodiac as a framing device for either plot or world-building (there's a book list down at the end of this post), and so I said yes with conviction when offered a review copy of Zodiac, by Romina Russell (Razorbill, YA, Dec. 2014). I was especially curious about this one because it is the first time I've ever seen the zodiac used within a science fictional context taking place far from earth.
Far off in space each sign of the zodiac rules a planetary system, and the people of each system live according to the qualities of their particular governing sign. Sixteen-year old Rho is a child of the planet Cancer--a nurturing, caring, ocean planet--and though she's heard stories of the other signs and their attributes, she's only met a handful of people who are from different worlds.
But then Cancer is attacked. Its moons are destroyed, and a horribly high-number of its people are killed. Rho saw the attack coming, but no one took her seriously.....until after the fact. After the tragedy, Rho is the only person with psychic gifts strong enough to lead her people, and in the most horrible of situations, she must put aside her own feelings to save Cancer, and the other signs as well.
For an old enemy has risen again to attack, a figure out of stories--Ophiuchus, the exiled 13th sign of the zodiac. And no sign is safe. But how can Rho, young and inexperienced, possibly convince the other leaders that the 13th sign is real?
It's a briskly moving story, with considerable tension as Ophuchus closes in. For those that like romantic triangles, there's a rather good one here (involving a very appealing and interesting Libran, my favorite character in the book). Those who like speculative fiction starring young people thrust abruptly into positions of power and desperately fighting against terrible odds should also enjoy it.
But what interested me most was the whole premise behind this universe, and so when I had the chance to send questions off to Romina Russell, that's what I asked about! Her answers are in blue, as befits House Cancer....
1. Were the qualities of each house of the Zodiac clear to you from the beginning, or did you have to change things to make the story work? And related to that, did you know from the get go that Rho would be from House Cancer?
One of the coolest parts of creating the Zodiac Universe was having a cheat sheet for the world building: astrology. I basically took the traditional horoscopes for each sign and built out worlds populated with people that fit each personality type.
As for making Rho a Cancrian, I knew I wanted to explore a different kind of hero in this universe, a character whose strength was in her heart and not her body. I was interested in taking a girl who wasn’t a warrior and discovering what weapon she would use to fight in a war. I wondered how she would save the world(s)…and whether or not she could.
2. And then as a minor related question-- some of the Houses are more appealingly portrayed than others (I would not want to be an Aries in your world!). Have any friends and family complained because you made their signs of the Zodiac unappealing?
The complaints I’ve received are that people want to meet more characters from their own Houses! Which will happen—I promise! Aries is the most ancient of all the Houses, so it’s seen more civilizations come and go than the other planets. To me, that world most resembles a dystopian Earth because Arieans use military strength to solve their problems.
I think every House is a little imbalanced in this book because they’ve strayed so far apart, and the whole point is they’re at their best when the Zodiac is united and working together. Arieans would be better off if they embraced a little more of Cancrians’ nurturing natures, just as Cancrians would be better off if they toughened their planet’s protections and were better prepared for unexpected attacks.
3. I see in your bio that you are a Virgo- were you at all conscious of what Virgos were supposed to be like when you were little? (I've known I was a Capricorn forever, and so have always had a firm belief that I possessed all the good qualities of that sign....and perhaps acted in more Capricorn-ish ways as a result...)
Pretty much the only thing I knew about the Zodiac when I started working on this series was my own sign—we’re supposedly practical, obsessive, fussy, controlling, perfectionists…and yes, I’m beginning to see your point! So fun that you’re a Capricorn—that’s where book two begins… (So you can tell me if you approve of its characterization when you read it!)
4. Which how do you make sense of the problem of having everyone each house share particular characteristics of personality? Is it nature, or nurture?
Because it's based on the myths and figures found in astrology, the ZODIAC world is something of an exaggerated version of ours, as seen in the clear-cut personality types. But as with our world, Zodiac personalities are a combination of nature and nurture—the only difference being that in Rho's world, it's possible for nature to collide with nurture in such a way that it sends the whole galaxy off kilter!
Thank you Romina! And thank you, Razorbill, for the review copy.
So yes, do try this one if you are at all interested in spec fic fun with the zodiac!
And as promised up at the top, here are other books that feature the zodiac, with links to my reviews:
Ludo and the Star Horse, by Mary Stewart
The Valley of Song, by Elizabeth Goudge
The 13th Sign, by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb
Which is only three. I could have sworn there were more.....?