There’s a lot to consider in that simple statement – Who are you? Can you be yourself without anyone noticing? And can you keep from getting yourself killed when you don’t even know what you’re capable of?
That’s what Myfanwy Thomas has to figure out when she wakes up in a London park with bodies all about her and not a single memory left. Letters found in her coat pocket, left by the person she used to be, guide her through a harrowing adventure in the wild and richly imagined world of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley.
Myfanwy (pronounced like ‘Tiffany’) is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency known as Checquy that battles the supernatural forces. But her memory has been stripped from her by a mole within the organization, who would like nothing more than to see her dead.
The Rook bounces between fantasy and science fiction effortlessly as Myfanwy attempts to unravel the mysteries surrounding her. The supernatural world in which the Checquy operates is wonderfully imagined. There’s a person with four bodies, a man who can literally read palms, and a fortune telling duck.
Myfanwy is a well-crafted heroine, struggling against what others know of her and doing her best not to slip up and find herself at the wrong end of … well, maybe a giant gelatinous cube of flesh. Each character she comes into contact with richly envisioned while at the same time being strange and unnatural. Which, for Myfanwy, is supposed to be the norm.
Descriptions are visceral, sometimes to a point where I made certain I didn’t read late at night, lest I start seeing a certain Belgian sitting in a fish tank (it’ll make sense, trust me). The wit and humor are spot on. The Rook moves fast and keeps the level of suspense high. There were more than a few times when I knew what was coming, only to have it taken a step beyond or twisted in a manner that I hadn’t expected.
A great deal of the back story is filled in by letters peppered throughout the novel. Letters like this are a trope in novels and more often than not, they’re done poorly. They’re usually written to an anonymous reader (who, *gasp* turns out to be one of the characters), a child of the narrator, etc. The point is, they’re usually boring and distract from the plot.
The Rook, however, does this quite well. Every letter is written from Old Myfanwy to New Myfanwy and while reading them, you can get a good feel for Old Myfanwy’s voice. There’s also a feeling as she writes that she doesn’t know who her audience is. Who is this person that will be inhabiting her body? What decisions have they made? What has been done? O’Malley turned a trope into an excellent way to fill in the back story without boring the reader and adding to the tension and excitement of the story.
I’m honestly surprised that this is Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel. He’s got a strong voice and ability to make characters come alive. And that’s good since the ending leaves open the possibility of further adventures with Myfanwy Thomas. I, for one, am more than eager to step back into the world of the Checquy.
Author Site: The Rook Files/Daniel O’Malley