Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

Title: The Rook

Author: Daniel O’Malley

Information on series: First in a series (book two will be released January 2016)

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10): 8
TL;DR: Endlessly entertaining and engrossing, The Rook has a great set-up that the rest of the book almost entirely lives up to.

Longer review:  She gains consciousness in a park, shivering in the rain, bloodied and bruised, surrounded by a ring of lifeless bodies, and with no knowledge of who she is.  In her pocket is a letter with only a large number one written on the outside.  “Dear you,” the letter says, “the body you are wearing used to be mine, … and along with this body you have inherited certain problems and responsibilities.”  
She, it turns out, is Myfanwy Thomas, a member of the Checquy, the secret organization that keeps Britain safe from the supernatural, the paranormal and the just plain weird.  In her position as a Rook, a high-ranking member of the Checquy leadership, Myfanwy discovered a traitor in the ranks but was unable to expose them before being attacked and having her memory obliterated.  Thankfully she’s the sort of person to think ahead, hence the letter in her pocket - and that’s not the only one.  Further letters direct the new Myfanwy to a safehouse and provide information about the Checquy and her own past. If she wants to survive the traitor's next attempt on her life, Myfanwy will have to go into work as if nothing happened, and find a way to expose them.
But when you work for the Checquy, even a normal day means fighting all sorts of weirdness: like a cult that unleashes a man-eating fungus, or a hatching dragon egg.  Few of the crises she faces, however, are more terrifying than her co-workers. There's the vampire, the guy who can excrete nerve gas, the one being that inhabits four separate human bodies, and even Myfanwy herself, who finds that in times of great stress she can disrupt the bodily functions of other people - make them go blind, or stop moving, or even stop their hearts beating.
Normally, amnesia as a plot device leaves me cold, but the letters that Myfanwy reads from her past self provide a great way for the author to outline the Checquy’s history, and provide details about how his world works.  Myfanwy goes into each new situation with just as much ignorance as the reader does, so even though the world of The Rook feels complex and deep, you get to experience it for the first time right along with the main character.
The tone of the novel is rather light and fun; if this were a Bond movie, it would be from the Roger Moore years and have lots of bad puns and innuendo.  The dialog is snappy, sometimes a little too unrealistically crisp, and Myfanwy is thrown from crisis to crisis fast enough that she doesn’t do much in the way of seriously connecting with other characters.  Hopefully the second book will see Myfanwy build some relationships and experience some development to go along with battling whatever new supernatural horror may threaten the British Isles.

Read Alikes:

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett:  Con-man Moist von Lipwig is saved from deserved execution for his crimes and is subjected to a punishment that amounts to a fate worse than death - he’s put in charge of the decrepit post office system.  This is the first of Pratchett’s Discworld novels featuring Moist who, like Myfanwy, is thrust into an inscrutable government institution and just has to learn as he goes along.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: Thursday Next is an officer in the government department of Literary Detection, where she chases forgers and plagiarists.  But one conniving baddie is bent on messing around with classic novel Jane Eyre, by kidnapping characters out of the original manuscript.  To preserve England’s literary heritage, Thursday must jump into the pages of classic literature where, it turns out, she finds a shadowy agency which polices books from the inside.

Reviewed by Seth, Ames Public Library

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