Review of Compass Rose by Anna Burke, audiobook narrated by Annette Romano
I read Anna Burke’s debut novel in January 2019 and loved it. Ms. Burke was then a promising new author who had received the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Sandra Moran scholarship created to mentor unpublished writers. Little did we know that in a few years this author would become such an accomplished author (incidentally, Ms. Burke is now Director of Education of that institution). I’m excited to learn that the sequel to Compass Rose, Sea Wolf, is coming out soon (July 2021). As I’ve forgotten the fine details of this novel’s plot, I decided to listen to the audiobook version.
I rarely read sci-fi and even fewer pirates’ stories but I’m glad I’ve chosen this one. Compass Rose is set in a dystopian world in 2513 in which the sea levels on Earth have risen and land is either flooded or too polluted to live on. Humans live on sea stations mainly located in the North Atlantic Archipielago. Compass Rose is a navigator born with an extraordinary ability: she can always tell her exact location and get the best nautical routes to a destination. When her Admiral orders her to work alongside mercenary Captain Miranda Stillwater to defeat the pirates that threaten to rule the Atlantic, her world turns upside down. But even her exceptional navigational skills won’t prepare her for Miranda’s captivating persona and for her threatening crew.
This novel is written in first person from the point of view of Compass Rose except for a brief Captain’s log at the beginning of each section (East, South, West, North, Center). The world the author built is very imaginative in its unpleasant and threatening nature. The dangers come in the form of terrifying gigantic squids, murdering pirates, or greedy politicians. The beauty of this book is that even in this imaginary world we can see humanity at its best and worst. Ms. Burke’s use of nautical metaphors is exquisite and poetic.
Compass Rose makes a well-rounded main character with her extraordinary abilities and her shortcomings. Ms. Burke isn’t afraid to depict her as an unwilling heroine stressing her fears and her anxiety coping mechanisms (her mantra ‘North, south, east, west’ is an amusing example). The cast of secondary characters is presented with no rush so each one can be recognised for their own physical appearance and personalities. The author doesn’t sugarcoat their cruelty or ferocity which makes the story very credible.
The romance is too much on the side for my liking but I understand the logic around it. This is not a romance but a fast-paced adventure novel. The chemistry between Rose and Miranda is sizzling and believable despite that they are not together that much.
The audiobook is narrated by Annette Romano and I have to say that it was a bit of a letdown for me. The overall tone sounds too matter-of-fact, which suits better for the action scenes than the more emotional ones. I remember feeling the connection between Rose and Miranda when reading the novel, something I couldn’t feel in the audio version. I couldn’t help thinking about Angela Dawe’s rendition of The Lily and The Crown by Roslyn Sinclair, to give an example of a pirate story, and how that narrator could have made this fantastic story shine. Having said that, maybe other listeners would enjoy this audiobook better, the story is absolutely worth it. 4 stars.
Length: 12 hrs and 33 mins