Author: Daniel O’Malley
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Thriller
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.
Publication Date: January 2012
Hardcover: 496 pages
“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.
She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.
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.
Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I was hooked from the first line of the blurb (and the novel). Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve tried a new Urban Fantasy novel as I’ve been a little burned out on the genre, and the crossover elements of The Rook, blending elements of SF, mystery, and thriller, appealed to me.
Myfanwy Thomas – pronounced “Miff-uh-nee” like Tiffany – awakens in the rain, with no memory of who she is or why she is surrounded by a bunch of dead people all of whom are wearing latex gloves. The only clue she finds are two envelopes in her jacket pocket (numbered “1″ and “2″), and when she opens “1″ she finds a letter addressed to her…from her.
Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.
With those opening lines, and a brief explanation, Myfanwy is given two choices – to start a new life away from the dangers that landed her into the mess of dead bodies and amnesia in the rain, or to take the red pill and stay in Wonderland to see just how deep the rabbit-hole goes. In the tradition of pissed off, inquisitive heroes, Myfanwy takes the red pill and is drawn into a world of supernatural abilities, of a powerful secret organization called the Chequy that is tasked with the job of keeping Brittan and the rest of the world safe (and ignorant!) of routine paranormal threats. It turns out, Myfanwy Thomas is a powerful member of the Chequy Court – a Rook – and someone else, very powerful and one of her colleagues and friends, is responsible for her attempted murder and memory-stealing. With only the letters of the departed ghost of the old Myfanwy Thomas to guide her, the new Myfanwy must pretend that all is well and carry on with business as usual, but discover the villain before he or she succeeds in his or her dastardly plan.
I was excited to start reading The Rook, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. And dear readers, I was completely taken by surprise because I LOVED this book from cover to cover. I loved the worldbuilding and the concept of the Chequy with its underlying mythology – the UK-centric organization was a nice twist, too (note: there is a US-based branch of the Chequy, called the Croatoan – nice historical touch there, right?! – but the UK is much more of a supernatural hotspot). I loved the chess-themed concept of the organization, with two Rooks, Bishops, Chevaliers (aka Knights) on the Court, supported by supernatural abilitied Pawns and non-superpowered Retainers in administrative roles.
While The Rook uses some very familiar Urban Fantasy tropes – the amnesiac heroine, the secret organization of powerful/supernatural ability individuals, for example – the writing is refreshingly free of the regular cliches and uses an exceptionally clever plot device to add depth and context to the novel. The implementation of the old Myfanwy narrating her story via posthumous messages is brilliant, simple and effective, and I loved how very DIFFERENT the old and new Myfanwys are from each other, but equally awesome. The older iteration is a brilliant administrator that was afraid of using her powers, timid around the high-powered males that push her around, but manages to outsmart and out-plan those who underestimated her gumption. The new Myfanwy is more direct, willing to use her particular abilities, not afraid to stand up to the other Court members, and out for vengeance for the woman she used to be. The juxtaposition is absolutely brilliant, and I loved learning more about both Myfanwys through the letters and dossiers sprinkled throughout the text from the woman that was, and the struggles of the newborn in her body as she comes to grips with the overall mystery of her attacker.
Most of all, I LOVED LOVED LOVED that there were NONE of the tried and tired UF cliches in the writing – there’s no tepid love interest (seriously, the woman just lost all scraps of her identity and inner being – she doesn’t need to dive into some insipid relationship before she knows who she is), none of the wise-cracking, dead broke, super abrasive, dead-end job, down on her luck, underachieving heroine characterization so typical in the UF genre. I found it incredibly refreshing that the older Myfanwy is a badass only when it comes to paperwork and planning – which is much cooler and memorable than being an abrasive wise-cracking protagonist. I also loved the narration choice of third person limited, as opposed to the first person shooter that characterizes much of the contemporary genre (with the exception of the letters from the Myfanwy-that-was, but those are pretty awesomely done).
Not to mention the fact that the overarching mystery – tied into a full scale invasion of Brittan by some nasty adversaries, complete with treason and power-hunger – is pretty damn impressive.
Basically, dear readers, it comes down to this: if you’re looking for the antidote to the same old, lackluster, run-of-the-mill UF, look no further. The Rook is awesome. I can only hope for more Myfanwy in the future.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From chapter 1:
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 could take a little more time.
Do you know the name of the body you are in? It’s Myfanwy. Myfanwy Alice Thomas. I would say that it’s my name, but you’ve got the body now, so I suppose you’ll be using it.People tend to mangle its pronunciation, but I would like it if you at least knew how to say it. I don’t embrace the traditional Welsh pronunciation, so for me the w is silent and the f is hard. Thus, Miff?un?ee. Simple. In fact, now that I think about it, it rhymes with Tiffany.
Before I give you the story, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, you are deathly allergic to bee stings. If you get stung and do not take quick action, you will die. I keep those little epinephrine-?injector-?pen thingies around me, so find one before you need it. There should be one in my purse, one in the glove compartment of the car, and one in pretty much every jacket that you now own. If you get stung, slip the lid off the thing, jam it into your thigh, and inject. You should be fine. I mean, you’ll feel like absolute shit, but you won’t die.
Apart from that, you have no dietary restrictions, no allergies, and you’re in pretty good shape. There is a tradition of colon cancer in the family, so you should get regular checkups, but nothing has appeared yet. Oh, and you have a terrible head for alcohol. But you probably don’t need to know that yet. You’ve got more important things to worry about.
Hopefully, you will have my wallet, and along with it all the little plastic cards that are so vital for surviving in today’s electronic world. Driver’s license, credit cards, National Health Service card, library card, and all of them belonging to Myfanwy Thomas. Except for three. And those three are, at the moment, the most important. Tucked away in there you will find an ATM card, a credit card, and a driver’s license in the name of Anne Ryan, a name that will not be linked to you. The personal identification number for all of them is 230500. That’s my birthday, followed by how old you are. You’re a newborn! I would suggest that you withdraw some money from Anne Ryan’s account immediately, go to a hotel, and check in as her.
You are probably aware of this next part already, since if you are reading this then you have survived several immediate threats, but you are in danger. Just because you are not me does not make you safe. Along with this body, you have inherited certain problems and responsibilities. Go find a safe place, and then open the second letter.
How great is THAT for an opening? To download and read the first four chapters, head HERE
Rating: 8 – Excellent; and again, is it too early for me to say this could be one of my favorite books of the year? I don’t think so.
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