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REVIEW: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

REVIEW SUMMARY: This book is reminiscent of many things: X-Files, James Bond, X-Men, without being any of them, because it’s written from the bureaucrat’s point of view.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Letters found in the jacket pocket of a newly awakened amnesiac woman explain she has a choice: to escape a dangerous life, or to impersonate the woman she was in a secret government organization of people with supernatural abilities.

PROS: Amazing world-building, fast-paced, tightly plotted, interesting protagonist, subtle underlying humour
CONS: Some situations are hard to believe given the circumstances
BOTTOM LINE: If you like mysteries and intricate world-building, pick this up.

“Dear You,

The body you are wearing used to be mine.”

When Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in the rain, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, she has no idea what her name is or how to pronounce it (it rhymes with Tiffany). The two letters in her coat pocket reveal both her identity and a choice: run or stay. A second attack convinces her that running away isn’t an option so she decides to impersonate Thomas, a high ranking official in a secret British government organization (the Checquy) that deals with supernatural threats. Despite copious letters left by her ‘predecessor’ this is no easy task, made harder by the knowledge that one of her high ranking compatriots was behind the attacks on her and a traitor to the realm.

This is not The Bourne Identity for sf/urban fantasy fans. As a Rook, Myfanwy is in charge of the workings of the Checquy officers in Britain. She has meetings with various people and makes sure the realm is secure by covering things up and reporting them to the appropriate people. Her counterpart, Rook Gestalt, usually handles the field work side of things while she does the desk work. And she’s very good at desk work. As the book progresses, the action picks up as Myfanwy is forced to attend to some of the field work, something her predecessor was ill suited for, but which the new Myfanwy is surprisingly adept at.

As a character Myfanwy is fascinating. She’s learning about her former self while no longer being that person. She’s more direct, more assertive and less willing to leave certain things to underlings. She’s also more willing to use her own special abilities. You realize after a while that she’s quite different from who she used to be, making it bizarre how few people comment on the change. It also makes for several ridiculous conversations where she’s fishing for information she should already know. Sometimes this is commented on in the novel.

The world-building is excellent. The author gives a lot of information via letters from Thomas, but they’re written with dialogue and description, so the book never feels stilted. And while many of the letters are interspersed when specific information is needed, at times they are used to enhance the tension, by explaining a necessary side story while the main story builds up to an action sequence. The world of the Checquy is complex, with a school for children with special abilities, a convoluted hierarchy of the court and pawns, ‘normals’ who act as servants and compatriots but who can’t rise to levels of power, an American office, etc. Learning about the world is almost as much fun as trying to figure out who the traitor is.

The author is aware of how ludicrous some of the powers and emergency situations are and often makes subtle jokes. When talking about Bath we learn,

According to Thomas the city had once been a veritable hotbed of manifestations, with every sorcerer, bunyip, golem, goblin, pict, pixie, demon, thylacine, gorgon, moron, cult, scum, mummy, rummy, groke, sphinx, minx, muse, flagellant, diva, reaver, weaver, reaper, scabbarder, scabmettler,… [the list continues for several lines] ogre, cat in shoes, dog in a hat, psychic and psychotic seemingly having decided that this was the hot spot to visit.

The book is surprisingly fast paced given the partial narrative writing style. There’s a fair amount of tension and enough action to keep things interesting.

If you like mysteries and intricate world-building, pick this up.

About Jessica Strider (102 Articles)
Jessica Strider worked at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto for 10 years before it closed in 2014. Now she's got more time to read books, so check out her <a href="//">blog</a> for SF/F book reviews, movie reviews, posts about the middle ages, and more.

5 Comments on REVIEW: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

  1. I LOVED this book. I actually reread this recently because I’ve been in a major rut and couldn’t get interested enough in a book long enough to finish it. This book broke that rut. I gave it 4 1/2 stars the first time around but may have to up it to 5 just for that. I really, really hope O’Malley writes another Checquy book.

  2. Joe Parrish // August 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm //

    Glad to see it reviewed here, I read it not long after it came out, and just loved it. I hope we get a sequel. Might be the best science fiction i have read this year.

  3. Ugh, I thought this was awful, I had to give up after about 50 pages due to the highly annoying protagonist and the author’s repeated and dreadful misuse of British English. If you’re going to set a book in the UK, it might be an idea to have at least visited, I suspect Mr O’Malley hasn’t even managed a long weekend here. Just a couple of examples: Myfanwy (“rhymes with Tiffany”. Oh no it doesn’t!) orders room service in her London hotel room. You can just about get away with blueberry pancakes, but “wheat toast?” I had to look it up. Even worse the improbably named Sir Henry Wattleman is referred to repeatedly as “Sir Wattleman”. NO DANIEL!!!!! Dude, you’re an Australian, you should have a vague idea of how British honours work, no excuses mate.

    I might be prepared to forgive this utter lack of research if the rest of the book was any good, but sadly it isn’t. Do some research for the next novel Mr O’Malley, and think of a slightly less improbable plot next time.

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