on February 6, 2012
If you're actually reading a review of a book then I imagine you've been in this situation before. You turn the last page (swipe the last location, whatever) of a fantastic book and then it hits you.
That book that so completely swallowed you whole has ended and there's no more. No more exciting revelations. No more interesting characters. No more wondering what's on the next page because there is no next page.
And then the anger sets in. Anger because you know, no matter what, the next book you read can't possibly be this good. You'll likely pick up something tepid or boring or uninteresting, at least by comparison to what you just finished. And you're angry because all books should be this fun but they aren't, they just aren't.
The Rook is one of those books. So if the brief description available on the page or other reviews hasn't swayed you, then at least you can be warned that reading this may ruin other book reading for a while.
At least until the sequel comes out.
About once a week I get really excited about a new novel I'm reading, declaring that it might just be the best book I've read all year. Ask my friends, they'll resignedly confirm this. In keeping with tradition, 80 pages into The Rook by Daniel O'Malley my excitement was running full bore. "You have to buy this book! It is so freaking awesome!" I would say. Their reply: finish the book, write a review, and then tell us to buy it. Yeah well I've finished the book, this is me writing the review, and at the very end I'm going to tell you to buy it.
If you look up reviews or descriptions of The Rook you are bound to come away with a quite the impression. I've seen comparisons made to X-Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ghostbusters, Monty Python, Men in Black, The Maltese Falcon, and The Bourne Identity. I would agree with those comparisons and hazard to throw in a few comparisons of my own. The Rook also blends the supernatural and the mundane like Lev Grossman's The Magicians, and may even be considered reminiscent of some of the creepier episodes of Doctor Who. So yeah, that is a lot to take in. It sounds like this O'Malley guy took a sci-fi/fantasy buffet and crammed it all in a blender. Fortunately the result isn't some hideous fictional slop, but a genre-bending supernatural spy thriller smoothie.
Myfanwy Thomas opens her eyes and she is not who she was. Surrounding her are dead men wearing suits and latex gloves. She is aching from a serious beating and soaked to the bone from the rain. In her pocket is a letter from her body's previous occupant warning her of an imminent threat to her life. She is given two options: run away and live in comfort or find out who has betrayed her and given her a wicked case of amnesia. And so begins Myfanwy's service in Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service.
I cannot believe that The Rook is Daniel O'Malley's debut novel. Seriously. I know of plenty notable authors that go their whole career without writing anything near as inventive and entertaining as The Rook. It's almost criminal how good this book is. It even has an amnesia plot for God's sake! Amnesia plots are usually so awful. Myfanwy, without Myfanwy (pronounced like Tiffany but with an `M') I'm not sure O'Malley could have pulled it off. Myfanwy is thrust into the cloak and dagger world of the Chequy, a secret organization dedicated to defending Queen and Country against paranormal threats, with only letters from her pre-amnesia self for guidance. The two Myfanwy's really can be considered separate characters. The pre-amnesia version is shy and soft spoken, an excellent administrator with the disturbing knowledge of her impending doom. The post-amnesia version is much more assertive but still finds herself in way over her head as she adjusts to life as a Rook on the Court of the Chequy. Both Myfanwy's are lovable and the first person narrative is full of wry wit.
Other members of the Court consist of: Gestalt, four bodies (three male and one female) all controlled by one hive mind. Heretic Gubbins, a contortionist whose body is seemingly made out of rubber. Eckhart, a soldier who can sculpt metal with his bare hands. Grantchester, an executive with the ability to release nerve gas from his pores. Alrich, a seductive creature of the night. Farrier, a woman who stalks the dreams of others. And Wattleman, who I regretfully forget what his power is. These characters are both wonderfully diverse and vastly interesting. My particular favorite is Gestalt because the idea of one mind controlling four bodies simultaneously and separately is just the coolest thing ever. One of these super-powered leaders of the most powerful secret society in existence is responsible for Myfanwy's amnesia and she must discover who and why.
Despite being a member of an organization that battles threats from mankind's darkest nightmares and possessing an extremely useful super-power of her own (the gift of control over other people's nervous systems by touch alone), Myfanwy is a glorified paper pusher. She is a bureaucrat and a darn good one at that. Not only must she adjust to a new life and conduct investigation into the traitor, but she is also responsible for the daily domestic affairs of the Chequy. The Chequy is an absurdly cool organization and I would love to see some of the action from the combat personnel but O'Malley does a superb job of infusing Myfanwy's occupation with action. Reading about Myfanwy conducting operations from her office is thrilling enough and when she finally does roll up her sleeves and gets some dirt (or fungus) on her hands it is even better.
The Chequy's long standing enemies, the Grafters are equal parts disturbing and awesome. A scientific brotherhood of fleshcrafters get an A+ for originality. The threat the Grafters pose is substantial and despite all the danger and suspense O'Malley layers in copious amounts of humor. There is one paragraph listing all sorts of supernatural horrors that had me laughing all the way through. The Rook is a sort of meta-book, much in the way that The Cabin in The Wood is a movie that encompasses the whole of the horror genre. The Rook is one half homage, one half spoof, and one half evolution of the genre. Don't check my math on that.
It goes without saying (because I've been drooling in affection for the last seven paragraphs) that The Rook is an amazing novel. Fun and imaginative, O'Malley has written an instant classic. The ending remains my only complaint, once again I have come across a sort of anti-climax, but don't let that prevent you from buying this one. O'Malley has a bright future paved in gold and I simply cannot wait for the next Chequy novel. The Rook is the best book I've read all year, go buy it.
*The magical Goatfairy grants The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, 10 out of 10 cheesewands*
Goatfairy Review Blog
on January 8, 2012
I picked this book up on a whim while at the bookstore. Just seemed really interesting. Once I started reading I didn't want to put it down. There is just enough humor to keep it from feeling overly stuffy and just enough intrigue to keep it from being overly fluffy. The idea of a secret spy agency that is designed to monitor the world's supernatural goings-on is not a new one, but the author takes it and makes it his own. There are definite parts of the book/plot that remind me of xmen, buffy the vampire slayer, xfiles, harry potter - but at the same time not in a bad way. The book melds all those together very well. It's a good read from start to finish. I look forward to reading more from this author!
on January 12, 2012
When I think of The Rook the first word that comes to mind is 'fun.' Great fun actually. But to simply say that The Rook is 'fun' would be facile on my part. The Rook is a terrific read for a lot of reasons.
Foremost The Rook is very well written. The mystery of why Myfanwy Thomas is without her memory and who did what to whom is hard to crack. As soon as I'd thought I'd figured it out, the story proved me wrong. Not because of authorial plot shenanigans, but because the unraveling of the mystery was very well handled. I really enjoyed how this is done with new Myfanwy being aided by information left behind by old Myfanwy. Myfanwy is a wonderful character. She's trying to figure out how to do her job as Rook and racing against time to find who in the Chequy harmed her and why. The Rook is not a short read (nearly 500 pages), but I barely noticed the length.
The Chequy is itself amazing. It's a fantastical governmental agency. Think FBI/CIA rolled into one that handles supernatural threats. Yes, other supernatural agencies exist in literature, but none quite like the Chequy. How the Chequy functions is explained well, but never bogs down the story. I really enjoyed seeing how the Chequy works, how threats are handled, and meeting the people with whom Myfanwy works, despite that fact that one of them wants her erased. Mr. O'Malley's scrupulous attention to detail creates a believable, if somewhat unusual, governmental agency.
The upper echelon of the Chequy are fascinating characters themselves. Because Myfanwy is trying to figure out which of them might be after her, we get to know each of them well. I certainly enjoyed learning about them and their powers... and trying to figure out who did it and why.
Mr. O'Malley has infused The Rook with wry humor, unusual supernatural beings, and a deeply absorbing mystery. The Rook made me laugh out loud, entertained me, and kept me fascinated from start to finish.
I give The Rook 5 Qwills.
Posted at The Qwillery.
on August 20, 2012
There's nothing quite so confounding as disliking a book, then coming to Amazon and seeing it has wall-to-wall five stars.
"The Rook" isn't a bad book, it's just not worthy of "best book of the year" type praise that's getting bandied about. Too many ideas, too much exposition, and a story that never quite settles down in a single place leads to a novel that it's almost impossible to get too invested in. The plot device of letters the main character has left to herself started out fine, but then quickly denegrated into the author using it as a flashback device. The cheat-sheet of who's-who in the Rookery read like glossary entries cut and pasted through the story to bulk up the word count.
My main complaint is with the characters. It seemed like the "supernatural branch of the MI5" was solely occupied by teenagers on free period of high school. Exclamation points were liberally scattered through the dialogue, making me feel as if I was in the middle of "Mean Girls: The Novel." No one came across as a truly mature adult. I ended up scanning the last few chapters just to get finished with it.
I do read a lot, so this doesn't hold a lot of weight, but this isn't one of my "best books of the year". It's not even one of the best books I've read this month.
on October 24, 2012
Yeah, so the premise of the novel is that Mwfffwwnnxxzzy or whatever her name is loses her memory in some sort of strange and unexplained attack. She has weird powers and is in possession of 80 billion letters from her past/real self (I mean honestly, the sheer amount of verbiage from her former self is bananas). She's part of some supernatural spy agency and is one of the 8 overlords that run the place. Keep that last point in mind as I want to stress again that she's lost all of her memories, identity, and knowledge. Anyway, she very quickly, as in 1-2 days, is up to speed on the intricacies of her agency, the supernatural world at large, and actually very much more capable than Mytzlplx Jr. She runs an agency that is a mix of MI5, MI6, CIA, FBI, Goldman Sachs, Social Services, and Opus Dei and has no idea about any of it but somehow masters everything in no time flat. *sigh*. Reminds of those old fantasy novels I used to read where the archetypal sheep herder became a hybrid of Snake Eyes from GI Joe and Gandalf in two chapters after learning to focus his mystical testosterone and 1/2 a lesson from some dude with hippie hair and a beard.
Anyway, onto where it gets REALLY bad. After a halfway interesting start the author decides that none of these super spies/Jedi are astute enough to pick up on little Miss Amnesia and, even more bothersome, that every little action needs pages of exposition (e.g. "Muffany ate a Toblerone. She did it because she was hungry and chocolate has calories that the human body metabolizes in order to fuel its operations, it also causes cavities, and may promote weight gain. Consult with your doctor in case of..." etc.)
I'm a little over halfway through and am struggling over whether to power through to the end or consign the remainder to my Kindle graveyard. I'm really quite perplexed by the volume of positive reviews as the development and progression of the book really deteriorate quite markedly as it progresses. It doesn't deserve 1 star less on its own merits than the comparison to some of the absolute dross I've randomly purchased on Amazon. Urban Fantasy/Horror is an interesting genre but the talent it appears to attract is really quite awful outside of a few exceptions. Go read the Felix Castor series. Stay away from this one (and Pagan, my previous review, that was a straight up abomination and the author should be beaten with a Kindle).
P.S. Amazon needs to stop censoring reviews that are in no way profane. If this gets through Big Brother it is because I changed two words that, perhaps, don't mean what they think they mean.
on October 20, 2012
A woman regains consciousness standing in a park, with an array of unconscious or dead strangers at her feet, not knowing who or where she is. A letter in her pocket is addressed "Dear You", and claims to have been written by herself, before she lost her memory.
It's a really great hook! And not a bad plot-device. If you're to solve the mystery of "you", who better to help you know about this past life you've lost than the "you" who knew it?
Unfortunately, the "Dear You" letters are overused, and quickly wear thin. Here's a movie analogy. Imagine that there's two movies; one being the movie itself, and the other being a "Making Of" documentary about the movie. You might want to watch both of these movies. But now imagine that they're spliced together. You get ten minutes of movie drama, and then it's interrupted by ten minutes of documentary explaining what you just watched. Would anyone want to watch both movies at the same time, spliced together like this? I doubt it.
Yet, that's what the seemingly endless set of "Dear You" notes did to this novel for me, the reader of it. They were generally too chatty, long, and tedious. Who, knowing they're going to have their memory wiped in the future, writes letters to themselves like they might write multi-page Facebook updates??
Because the author wants this character to be capable of impersonating, well, herself, the character clearly needs *SOME* help in knowing her own background. A more conventional device might have served better here: A friend taken into confidence. That might have revealed the back story in a more natural way, and would have given the character someone to converse with. As it is, she keeps retreating to private places to read more "Dear You" material, which is (of course) not interactive. Interrupt-itis!
Perhaps because I kept hitting these speed-bumps in the story, I also began to no longer suspend disbelief about the entire magical "universe" the author is creating. I believe the intended effect for the main character's employer was that it feel like a kind of for-adults cross between Hogwarts and Scotland Yard, or perhaps the X-Men. But the powers some of these people have are just... bizarre, and pointless, ultimately not believable. A girl who can shoot insects from her mouth??
I'm about midway through the book, have lost most interest in finding out how it resolves, and probably won't finish it.
It's not awful. Just not compelling enough to recommend.
on August 7, 2012
The Rook is a fine summer beach read. It's light and frothy fun--with its wild world full of superpowered secret agents and grotesque monsters, there's always something interesting going on. Like a typical summer blockbuster, though, it works best when you're willing to shut your brain off and look past some slapdash plotting and questionable logic.
It's not a knock against the book, but be warned that the "Supernatural Secret Service" tagline is a bit misleading. The Rook bears far more resemblance to a superhero comic than horror story or spy novel. The members of the Chequey are each gifted from birth with a unique, superhuman ability--a premise that feels more than a little similar to Marvel's X-Men comics. (Or--a more precise analogy for serious comic book geeks--with their opulent wealth and chess-based ranks, they're essentially a good guy version of the Hellfire Club.) Yes, there's a vampire, and some of the antagonists are Lovecraftian grotesques, but the book never delivers the dark, atmospheric chills of horror or growing paranoia of a good spy thriller; this is all about fast pacing and big, explosive action setpieces.
Though The Rook's story and setting owe a lot to comics, its silly and irreverent tone most closely resembles the fantasy parody writings of Terry Pratchett. There's a lot of implausibly goofy behavior both from the eccentric, dysfunctional staff at the Cheque and their various antagonists. Fortunately, the humor amuses more often than not (though never quite as much as the author's winking tone seems to think).
The book's humor, however, is at odds with its occasional attempts to build drama. On the one hand, we're invited to laugh at the Cheque as a group of buffoons. On the other hand, we're asked to believe that they are an elite, highly-trained secret agency, facing dangers too terrifying for the average populace to know about. The Rook spends a little too much time with the former to pull off the latter successfully, and as a result, there's a lack of tension when the story tries to switch to the dramatic. Action scenes move briskly, and minor Cheque agents die in droves, but it's hard to take things seriously when characters are only a few pages away from snapping back into comic mode.
The plotting is loose and episodic. It's lively, but not always satisfying. The story begins with a great hook in Myfanwy's amnesia and discovery of her powers; letters from her pre-amnesia self initially provide some vital drive to the plot, and fill in backstory quickly. As the book goes on, though, the letters from Myfanwy 1.0 are increasingly given to meandering anecdotes. And what plot information Myfanway 1.0 does have to give, she provides slowly in long letters that read conspicuously like an author doling out flashbacks rather than a character relaying facts that will be critical to the survival of her future self. Myfanwy 2.0 seems much more concerned with going about the daily business of her job than in trying to figure out who took her memory; all of her discoveries fall into her lap either in the course of her work at the Cheque or through Myfanwy 1.0's letters (which she reads at random, plot-convenient intervals, rather than taking the logical course of reading them all at once). Still, when the plot wanders, it's almost always to an enjoyable place. The diversions are usually amusing enough that it's hard to begrudge them, even when they don't have a significant place in the overarching plot.
The book's rushed and unsatisfying conclusion is less forgivable. A major antagonist is found by tracing a fax number (not through any fancy supernatural means, mind you--just a normal, any-police-station-could-do-it-in-3-seconds trace). This antagonist is then dealt with entirely off the page. The reveal of the traitor within the Cheque lacks dramatic punch, undermined by the loose plotting and a lack of any plausible motivation. Most frustratingly, there's never an explanation for the many prognostications pre-amnesia Myfanwy received about the forthcoming theft of her memory. Considering the amount of weight the story gives to the mystery of these predictions, the lack of payoff is conspicuous.
O'Malley's biggest weakness is character voice. Most of his characters are upper-crust British spies, but they sound more like American high schoolers, frequently using slang and swearing in a distinctly American manner. Nearly all of the female characters, including Myfanwy's meek, pre-amnesia self, refer to other women as "chicks," sounding about as authentically British as Larry the Cable Guy. There's also little difference between the voices of the characters, despite their widely varying ages and backgrounds.
And then there's O'Malley's unfortunate fondness for overly descriptive "said" descriptions. People rarely just "say" things; they "remark wryly," "declare boldly," and "observe dryly." This is a habit any editor or creative writing teacher should flog out of a writer at first opportunity. The tone of a line should speak for itself. Following up a witty line with a "remarked wryly" is like a comedian following up a joke with "Pretty funny, right?"
For its flaws, though, The Rook is still a fun read. Breezy, light, and full of action, the pages fly by. Like a bag of off-brand potato chips, it's not particularly nutritious, and there are undeniably better options out there, but damned if it isn't still hard to put down.
on February 5, 2014
I loved pretty much every moment of this book, and it's not even my preferred genre. The opening sentence alone enticed me to purchase it. "Dear you, the body you are wearing used to be mine." I just had to read it and know what it was about. Any struggling indie authors out there, this is how you write an opening sentence that grabs the reader and pulls them in.
There are concepts in this book that I've seen done before, but this author managed to introduce them in creative and interesting ways. There are lots of amnesia stories out there, certainly, but none quite like this one. A secretive organization comprised of individuals with supernatural powers? The Necroscope series comes to mind, and that's another fun series, but this one stands apart. The powers possessed by various characters were never the stereotypical ones that one might imagine. For instance, one (or, er, four?) of the characters I found the most interesting was Gestalt. This is a group of four siblings, who all share one mind. One person, four bodies. I couldn't get tired of reading about that character.
The format of the book goes back and forth between letters from the main character, before losing her memory, and the present main character. Occasionally, when chapters end in cliff hangers, this can be frustrating. The writing style was clever and often humorous enough to have me laughing out loud, reading sentences out loud to the people around me, who as a result are all likely to be reading this book in the near future.
Most of the plot developments came as surprises to me. There were, admittedly, a couple of things that could have been done differently that would have made it moreso, but in the interest of not providing massive spoilers, that's all I will say on the matter. My overall verdict is incredibly happy with this book, and incredibly eager to read the next installment as soon as it becomes available.
on December 17, 2015
Who is this Daniel O'Malley?! And where has he been all my reading life? How in the whole wide world did he create such an awesome intricate story? Even the one misstep I thought he'd taken turned out to be not one at all. Seriously, man! This book was awesome.
Other than the language. *eye roll* seriously, authors, it really is possible to pen a book without resorting to middle-school language. We're all adults here, and don't need profanity to keep us entertained. Thus the four stars.
Anyway, brief overview, Myfanwy (stinkin' awesome name) is an operative in a secret organization that investigates supernatural events. She is deprived of her memory by bad bad people, but astonishingly a new person emerges. This new person then has to deal with all sorts of crazy shenanigans which she does with aplomb and reoccurring black eyes.
If you aren't deeply offended by profanity, you MUST read this book. You must read it now!! Immediately!! With haste!! I can't believe it's over. I really hope Mr. O'Malley has written an equally enthralling sequel, or is in the process of doing so.
What I particularly enjoy is this book ties up most things with satisfaction, while leaving it open to a plethora of more stories. Nothing makes me throw books across the room vowing to never read anything else by the author more than a cliffhanger - usually a stupid trilogy. This book does not in any way commit that heinous crime and thus I am far more disposed to shower Mr. O'Malley with a bunch more of my cash for his brilliantly written tales.
Wow, this dude can write.
One of the few books I have no doubt I will read again. Possibly several times.