Rooks and Romanticide

Written by J.I. Radke
Review by Nicola M. Imbracsio

Rooks and Romanticide alters the well-known tragedy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by placing it in an alternative world of Victorian London. In J.I. Radke’s atmospheric novel, New London is besieged by turf warfare between the Dietrich and Ruslaniv families. Yet, amidst this violent turmoil, the two families’ male heirs develop a clandestine love affair that could potentially save their world, or shatter it to pieces.

Radke creates a richly descriptive alternative London while making several references to Romeo and Juliet (the novel is divided into acts and scenes, there is a balcony, and lines from Shakespeare’s play are incorporated throughout). Like Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love, the romance between Cain Dietrich and Levi Ruslaniv is passionate and intense. Radke enhances this intensity by surrounding the romantic plot with political intrigue. Moreover, the sexual intimacy of the two male lovers makes the romance even more perilous: the characters exist in an alternative Victorian England, yet the morality is much the same. While Radke does borrow bits from Shakespeare, this is certainly not the Bard’s romance as it is full of sex and violence.

Rooks and Romanticide is a fun read, with a vivid setting and a compelling plot. However, the novel is largely overwritten as Radke does not trust his readers to interpret the significance of a gesture or moment and instead points it out for them. Additionally, Radke sacrifices potentially powerful scenes for extensive exposition that is overpopulated with similes and rhetorical questions. All of this results in characters that are distanced from the reader’s sympathies and concern.