The Rook

The rook Daniel O'MalleyWho would you be if you were not you? If all your memories, if all of the things that make you who you are were removed, who would you be? That is what Myfanwy Thomas needs to find out when she wakes up, cold and wet, in a park surrounded by a bunch of dead bodies wearing latex gloves. Who is she? Who was she? Who will she become? These are all things that Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany... she thinks) must decide and decide quickly in Daniel O'Malley's debut novel, The Rook.

"Dear You,

The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine. The filling in the far left tooth on the top is a result of my avoiding the dentist for four years. But you probably care little about this body's past. After all, I'm writing this letter for you to read in the future. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing. The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is because I knew it would be necessary.

The complicated answer might take a little more time."

The Rook is an interesting mashup of genres. It's a little bit James Bond, something it gives a nod to on the cover of the book where it states, "On Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service." It's a little bit X-Files because supernatural beings do exist (though I'm still not sure if any of them are really alien). It's a little bit X-Men as well -- I don't think it's a stretch to consider anyone in the Checquy a mutant. It's also a bit... something else. In her Goodreads review, Deb Harkness says it's also a little bit Jasper Fforde and I can see that.

When Myfanwy discovers the above letter in her pocket she follows it. What else can she do? She's wet, she's cold and she has no idea who she is or what has happened. As she follows the clues her former self has left, she discovers she's a Rook -- a high-level operative inside a super-secret and supernatural organization called the Checquy. Their role is to protect the realm against (other) supernatural threats. As you might imagine, waking up surrounded by dead people means that something isn't quite right. There is a traitor in their organization, and the want to eliminate Myfanwy.

That, in and of itself, is surprising but what is more surprising is that despite her position of power, Myfanwy is not feared. Her powers may be great but she's never had any interest in using them. Not only is Myfanwy not feared, she's rather a bit of a wimp. To some, her lack of desire to use her powers is seen as both a weakness and a supreme disappointment.

There is one area in which Myfanwy totally kicks butt and that is in organization and research. Her skills in that department are hard to beat. It's a large part of what got her promoted to Rook at such a young age. When the woman who used to be Myfanwy had her very short future foretold she was surprised but she did what she did best - she organized. And she researched. She prepared for the day when someone would come to take her memories and did all that she could to make sure that the new her, the new Myfanwy, would be as prepared as possible for what was to happen. But even she couldn't prepare for how dangerous it was all about to become.

I think I like spy novels, especially those that involve female spies, because I'd make such a horrid one. The Rook isn't really a spy novel but it's got secret government agencies, operatives and action much the same way a spy adventure novel does. Myfanwy, or at least the first Myfanwy, is not someone you would consider good in the lead role of such a tale. In most stories, she'd be relegated to a supporting role. It was sad to see her came to realize how little she was respected and how great her potential power really was only as she was running out of time.

It was also fascinating to see how the new Myfanwy was both the same and very different. She maintained the organizational and research skills and she was every bit as capable as her predecessor. She looked like her. But she wasn't her. The traumatic events that brought Myfanwy to the Checquy were events that she could not remember. They did not shape her relationship with people and with her powers the same way. The new Myfanwy had her own traumas though, and rather than turning her into a shrinking violet, they made her angry. Very, very angry.

The Rook is O'Malley's first novel and it's not a perfect novel. (I don't think any novel ever is.) When I was digging around in reviews after I finished it, I discovered it's a rather divisive novel -- people either love it or they don't. I'm sure some of that is the supernatural action adventure aspect of it. It's not something some people like. The novel also dips back and forth in time as it dips back and forth between the old Myfanwy's letters and the new Myfanwy's life. When it does that it also changes point of view and while I like point of view shifts when they serve a purpose, I know some people despise them. I also found some people objected to the language choices and dialogue and I think that is a very valid criticism. The language is very Americanized and Myfanwy doesn't really speak like a Brit. Was that a publisher's decision? And author's? Who knows. It didn't bother me but I understand why it bothered others and I'm sure if I were British it would bother me immensely.

But The Rook is also a fun novel. It's the kind of novel that keeps you staying up too late at night because you want to know what happens next. It's a novel I'm glad I started on a weekend because I could stay up until 1am reading only to get up the next morning and pick it up again while ignoring all the other things I really should be doing. Had I read it during the week I'm sure I would have been exceptionally cranky due to both staying up late and having to work instead of read.

The Rook isn't a perfect novel but it's an enjoyable one, especially if you have a fondness for female secret operatives that can kick a lot of purple fungus butt.