Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

A woman wakes up in another woman's body. Oh, and she has amazing superpowers. Awesomeness ensues.

Publisher:Little, Brown and Company

Date: January 11, 2012

Blurb (From
“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.
She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Checquy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.
In her quest to uncover which member of the Checquy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

The Rook is told through two different peoples' eyes, Myfawny (sounds like Tiffany) Thomas, and Myfawny Thomas. Sounds crazy? Well, the main part of the story comes from New Myfawny Thomas, the person in the body during our opening scene in the rain with the weirdos with latex gloves. The rest of the story comes in the form of letters and entries in a large binder by Old Myfawny Thomas, Rook of the Checquy, a seemingly mousy and somewhat pathetic paper-pusher.

The very first thing I want to comment on is how well I felt the female characters were done. I don't always pay attention to this in books, but I came away impressed with what I thought were well-written females. They weren't men with breasts. They also weren't all emotional wrecks or nagging housewives or Martha Stewarts (the baking kind, not the insider trading kind). Good work, Daniel! Now, with that out of the way, let's move on to some of the things that might cause readers trouble in this novel.

I enjoyed the letter portions of the story immensely, as that's something that I really like to see in novels. It was also a clever way for O'Malley to work his way around that old "show, don't tell" chestnut. But for some, these letters might be overlong and not give enough to the current plot to keep the reader interested. The only time I had a problem with any of the journal entries were when the came directly after a cliffhanger in the current plot.

As far as the excellent background O'Malley gives us in these letters is concerned, I was left feeling like it was a necessary evil. While this story does start our character out in a place of weakness (loss of memory, under attack) it doesn't start her out low on the food chain. Instead, The Rook starts the main character off in a very high position of authority, scrambling to get her legs under her and figure out what's going on. The letters are the only way this character could possibly impersonate Old Myfawny. Thus, necessary evil. For some readers, though, it might make the novel drag just enough to make it feel too long. On my Kindle, it shows that The Rook is roughly the same size as The Lies of Locke Lamora, while other one-lead urban fantasies are about 75% of that. For me, the letters added a lot of color to the story, and explained why other people didn't immediately realize she had lost all her memories, but your mileage may vary.

The characters of The Rook were very well done. Everyone that shows up in The Rook feels real, living and breathing. Even those characters that died during some of the action scenes were people we had developed some sort of connection with. No Red Shirts in The Rook, and that's a very good thing.

I was very impressed with the ending of the book. O'Malley finished The Rook in a way that was very comfortable, and will not lead to massive fanboy ranting for a sequel. But rest assured that there's plenty of stuff going on at the end of the book that warrants one. The ending was sharp, enjoyable, and fulfilling, like a wheel of cheese.

I loved:
  • The letters between Myfawnys. But this could go in the other column for many people.
  • The superpowers. We've got 4 bodies with one mind, a crazy flexible dude, a human squid and much much more.
  • Female characters that aren't just men with breasts.
I hated:
  • The length. It was sort of necessary for all the worldbuilding he did, but it felt just a tad too long.
The Rook gets 8.75/10.  If you enjoy Larry Correia or Myke Cole, this is the slower, more British version of those, and it's great. There's plenty to enjoy here, and I suggest you go out and enjoy it very soon.