“The Rook” by Daniel O’Malley
In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy 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.
Normally I write my own synopsis when reviewing a book (I guess I like to torture myself) but the official synopsis for this book starts with the opening line of the book– and it perfectly establishes the tone of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley.
“The Rook” is basically the story of two Myfanwy Thomases. The first one we never officially meet: she exists in the letters (a suitcase full) that she writes to the second Myfanwy– the one who wakes up with two black eyes and her memory scrubbed. The idea of having Myfawny write letters to herself is a clever device that neatly side-steppes the common predictability of a story centered around an amnesiac. Myfawny has the information she needs at hand–if only she can read the letters fast enough.
But there is so much more to “The Rook” than someone trying to shake loose some lost memories. The Myfawny who only survives through the letters is as distinct a personality as the one who wakes up. The letters she writes, each starting with the salutation Dear You, are meticulously detailed and act as a window to the past and introduce each key character along the way. The structure of the story is inventive and greatly satisfying because Myfawny literally acts as her own protector and doesn’t need to rely on some half-baked romantic interest to save her.
The story is an urban fantasy, of sorts, in that it is set in modern day London. But the supernatural agency that Myfanwy works for exists in its own little world with posh offices and an elaborate boarding school that churns out a devoted army of supernatural agents ready to defend the world against all otherworldly threats. The old Myfanwy had the power, but not the motivation to use it, and made her way up the power structure by an uncommon talent for organization. But the new Myfanwy only has the letters, written by her hyper-organized alter-ego, to guide her and a new willingness to use her powers–and her journey is by turns harrowing and hilarious.
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Rook.” I loved the way the story was told from the alternating perspectives of Myfanwy’s letters and the real-time person trying to sort out her bizarre circumstances. But it isn’t only that literary device that makes this a great book. It’s also tremendously imaginative. There might be times where certain ideas seem borrowed, like that of a boarding school for super-powered children, but O’Malley’s version is gloriously strange and humorous in it’s own very unique way. This is a book with dragons and vampires and people with tentacles and tear-gas emitting sweat; you might also see a child that has the power to unleash a nuclear explosion with a single thought. This isn’t some lightweight paranormal fantasy, it’s a book you can sink your teeth into. It’s complex, original, sometimes violent and altogether satisfying. The minute I was done with it I wanted to sit down and read it again.
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.
From TIME Entertainment
#2 Daniel O’Malley, The Rook (January 11)
This is the only debut novel on this list, and it’s a monster. I get sent a lot of books by publishers looking for blurbs, and I almost never give them, but The Rook snapped my head around. I did my best to ignore it, but I simply could not. It opens with our heroine, Myfanwy (go with it), waking up in a park in London surrounded by dead bodies wearing rubber gloves. She has no memory of who she is. Here’s who she is: a high-ranking member of a secret branch of the government that protects England from supernatural threats (“rook” is her official title, as in the chess piece). She has to figure out who tried to kill her, what her job is, the extent of her own supernatural powers, etc. You learn about the world along with Myfanwy, and it’s utterly convincing and engrossing — totally thought-through and frequently hilarious. The writing is confident and fully fledged. Even this aging, jaded, attention-deficit-disordered critic was blown away.
- Lev Grossman, Seven Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2012, TIME Entertainment
Review: The Rook
Rook by Daniel O’Malley (Little, Brown, $25.99 hardcover, 9780316098793, January 11, 2012)
“Dear You,” begins the letter the amnesiac protagonist of The Rook finds in her jacket pocket. “The body you are wearing used to be mine.” As the note’s author, Myfanwy Thomas, explains, she knew her life was in danger, and in particular that her memory might be stolen, so she’s prepared an elaborate set of instructions to help bring herself back up to speed, and help her cope when the people who tried to kill her come back for a second attempt. Oh, and there’s one other thing her new self should know: she’s one of the highest-ranking officers in the Checquy, the secret British agency that deals with supernatural threats to the nation, and her enemy is almost certainly one of her fellow administrators.
Daniel O’Malley’s contribution to the growing field of high-octane paranormal spy thrillers is filled with smart flourishes. The Checquy is a centuries-old institution, with a command structure modeled after chess pieces, and clever bits of its history occasionally pop up in the background. (There’s a reference to at least one British horror classic; a more astute reader might be able to find others.) As Myfanwy regains her footing, she realizes that her previous self was shy and unassertive, but she decides to take a much more aggressive approach as she resumes the hunt for the traitor (or traitors) within the organization. Good thing, too: on her first day back at the office, she supervises an interrogation that reveals the return of the Grafters, a secret society of Belgian genetic engineers who first tried to invade England back in 1677.
O’Malley keeps a humorous edge –including the timely arrival of a sassy American colleague–to Myfanwy’s uncertainty without diminishing the threat level. He also uses the pre-amnesia Myfanwy’s letters and notebooks to parcel out the exposition at a helpful pace; some of this falls into the category of infodump, but even then O’Malley inevitably finds a way to work an entertaining angle. Very few of the plot developments are obvious, and the ones that are don’t undermine the suspense. (You’ll have guessed, for example, which of Myfanwy’s bosses is a vampire long before you get to the dossier that reveals his entire backstory.) There’s some wiggle room for a sequel, but The Rook stands on its own as an entertaining integration of paranormal flash with watertight espionage narrative. –Ron Hogan
Shelf Talker: Fans of Chris Farnsworth’s The President’s Vampire or Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives will enjoy O’Malley’s fast-paced action and snappy dialogue.
- Shelf Awareness. (http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=1618#m14301)
THE ROOK Author: O’Malley, Daniel Review Issue Date: December 1, 2011 Online Publish Date: November 21, 2011 Publisher:Little, Brown Pages: 496 Price ( Hardcover ): $25.99 Publication Date: January 11, 2012 ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-316-09879-3 Category: Fiction
Secret agents as Rooks and Pawns? Plausible, since Checquy Group “is a paranormal version of Britain’s MI5.”
In O’Malley’s fantasy debut, Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a London park, chilled, wet, suffering amnesia and surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves. In her pocket are letters from her past self, a self who understood she was in peril of memory loss and possible assassination. The letters are plans for her body’s future. With that, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) discovers she is a Rook in employ of the Checquy, an organization in service of Britain since ancient times. Checguy has field agents called Pawns who are overseen by Rooks, Bishops and Lords. Each has a supernatural power, as exampled by the Pawn able to “breathe cyanide and sweat tear gas.” Employing more letters and dossiers left by her former self, Myfanwy-without-memory takes her place in Checquy, attempting to suss out who she is, what she does and who wants her dead. She learns she is a high-level administrator, her supernatural power being mind control, but with a personality more forceful than formerly, she attracts the attention of her Rook counterpart, the disturbing Gesalt, one personality alive in four bodies. Myfanwy soon earn kudos protecting Britain against the antler cult, a houseful of goop and a villain manifesting as a roomful of human flesh. However, it is only after she uncovers the ancient Wetenschappeljik Broederschap van Natuurkundigen of Brussels—the Grafters—that she finds clues leading to the Checguy traitor who robbed her of her memory. With O’Malley using first-Myfanwy’s letters to provide history and backstory, second-Myfanwy grows into her hero-role and other characters are revealed as suitably creepy in the right and wrong ways. O’Malley’s narrative is peppered with sly humor, referential social commentary and the ironic, double-layered self-awareness that will have genre fans believing Buffy the Vampire Slayer has joined Ghostbusters.
No clairvoyance required to recognize there will be more outlier reports from Myfanwy, Rook of the Checquy.
O’Malley, Daniel (Author)
Jan 2012. 496 p. Little, Brown, hardcover, $25.99. (9780316098793).
This Australian author’s first novel adroitly straddles the thin line between fantasy, thriller, and spoof.
Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a park with no memory of who she is and not a clue about whom all these dead bodies belong to or why they’re all wearing latex gloves. Finding an envelope in her pocket, she reads the letter inside and discovers that she is an executive in a shadowy organization, the Checquy Group, that keeps the world safe from all manner of supernatural threats. And apparently, Myfanwy has been plunked down, memory-less, at a time when an ancient enemy of the Checquy Group is massing for a resurgence. The book has, in approximately equal measures, an X-Men vibe (the Checquy Group runs a boarding school for gifted youngsters) and a Tom Holt vibe (the story is about an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary world and scrambling to play catch-up). O’Malley is a nimble writer, effortlessly leaping back and forth between comedy and action. There’s plenty of room here for a sequel that readers will no doubt begin clamoring for before they’ve even finished this book.
— David Pitt, Booklist
At the start of Australian author O’Malley’s impressive debut, a supernatural detective thriller distinguished by its adept use of humor, an unknown woman reads a letter that opens “Dear You” and closes “Sincerely, Me.” The letter informs the woman that she now inhabits the body of Myfanwy Alice Thomas. A second letter from Thomas gives her body’s new mental occupant a choice—either flee London to take up a new, carefree life of affluence, or pretend that she is in fact Thomas in order to identify the person responsible for her memory loss. If the situation isn’t confusing enough, the “new” Thomas finds herself in the middle of a park in a heavy rain; scattered on the ground are motionless bodies wearing latex gloves. After making the more interesting choice, she learns that Thomas is a “Rook,” one of the leaders of a super-secret government organization that protects an unknowing public from a wide variety of paranormal threats. While the “old” Thomas has left detailed explanations about people and things for her successor, the “new” Thomas still must struggle to mask her complete ignorance about some of her major responsibilities. Dry wit, surprising reversals of fortune, and a clever if offbeat plot make this a winner. Dr. Who fans will find a lot to like. (Jan.) – Publishers Weekly (http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-316-09879-3)
“The Rook is hard to pin down — it defied my expectations at every turn. A supernatural thriller wrapped around a mystery wrapped around a cleverly constructed story of self-discovery.”
—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
O’Malley, Daniel. The Rook. Little, Brown. Jan. 2012. c.496p. ISBN 9780316098793. $25.99. F
Myfanwy (rhymes with “Tiffany”) Thomas wakes up in a London park surrounded by dead men, all wearing latex gloves. She has no idea who she is or how she got there. She finds two letters in the pocket of her jacket from her body’s former owner. The first tells her the body is now hers and warns of danger. Myfanwy is a Rook, a high-level operative in a clandestine security force charged with protecting Britain from supernatural forces, and there’s a mole in the organization who’s trying to kill her. Possessed of her own supernatural powers, underestimated until now, Myfanwy proves unexpectedly resourceful and is soon kicking butt with the best of them. The pace never lets up in this entertaining high-action read. The ending is a letdown, but that’s a small flaw in a great thriller.VERDICT First-time novelist O’Malley has fashioned a near-perfect supernatural thriller. The heroine is appealing, the villains all monsters or freaks, and something unexpected happens on almost every page. Don’t start this book unless you’ve got lots of time, because you won’t want to put it down. It’s that good. [See Prepub Alert, 7/11/11.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA — Library Journal
“Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters meets War of the Worlds. The Rook is a scintillating supernatural swashbuckler, replete with spores, slime, and unrelenting suspense — and with three intrepid heroines (two of them sharing the same body!). Daniel O’Malley’s debut is refreshingly unique in the realm of fiction.”—Katherine Neville, author of The Eight and The Fire
“THE ROOK is a wildly inventive and at times startling hilarious debut. Part Bourne Identity, part X-Men and with a hefty dose of Monty Python, this genre-bending debut is a refreshing addition to contemporary fantasy. I can’t wait to see what surprises Daniel O’Malley comes up with next.” —Jaye Wells, author of Red-Headed Stepchild
“I’m always waiting for the book that crosses fantasy and reality in the right way, and this was it for me — great world-building, totally charming, and finally addresses a truth we had all long suspected: that modeling your secret organization after a chess board sounds cool but gets really awkward after a while.” —Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible
“The Rook is just outrageously good. It gives us a rich secret world to play in, and a sympathetic, superpowered and frequently hilarious heroine to play in it with. What more can you ask from a novel? Reader, The Rook will capture you.” —Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Magicians