Monday, January 30, 2012

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):
"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.

And here's what I thought:   How about this:  Imaginative.  Clever.  Engaging.   And that's just the main character!   I loved this book.   Loved it so much that I started recommending it to people when I was halfway through it, and when I was done, didn't want to return it to the library (but I did).     There were so many things I enjoyed about this book ---- so let's start with the story and work our way up to the main character, okay?

As you can see from the above summary (I love that GoodReads does all the heavy lifting so I don't have to write a summary, myself), Myfanwy (pronounced Miffany ... like Tiffany but with an M) wakes up with no recollection of who she is.  Luckily, her previous self has left her all kinds of notes, which tell her a bit about herself, and her work.   I really loved this idea, that a character is discovering who they are, while we are, based on notes left by themselves.   And the world O'Malley has created here is our world, with just that bit of a supernatural twist to make it fun.  So there are plenty of things that are recognizable, and then new things thrown in (kind of like the show Supernatural... or Sanctuary).    I liked how the author gave us this secret organization, full of its own odd characters (some likeable, some dangerous... some both), and a mystery to figure out.   Going through it, I had my suspicions about who might have wanted Myfanwy dead.... and then would frequently change my mind and choose another person.   Loved it.

And Myfanwy?  She's a treat of a character -- practical, clever, a bit ruthless once she becomes comfortable with herself, and with a good sense of humor.  It's obvious that the Myfanwy we meet at the beginning is not really the same woman she was before.  It's almost like she's able to shed the somewhat timid person she was before, and just be a bit more confident --- after all, she doesn't have much to lose.   As her previous self explains, she has risen to the top ranks in the organization by being a superior administrator ---- but it turns out that there is much more to Myfanwy than meets the eye.   As she discovers things about herself (not just from the notes and letters and large binder of material she's left for herself), she really turns out to be quite extraordinary.

I think the author did a great job with not only the storyline, characters, and pacing  .... but he also does an exceptional job of writing a female main character.  What I mean is: I never stop believing her for a moment.    What I sometimes find in stories, when authors write a main character of the opposite sex, that there is something that gives me pause, or gets me stuck momentarily.   It is a fact that men and women use language differently (linguistics), and this is the kind of thing that can happen where I'm reading along and suddenly there's a trip ...... I think to myself, a woman (because I'm female), just wouldn't say that that way.   The one example that always stands out in my mind is Robert Hellenga's book, The Sixteen Pleasure, where all was going swimmingly until the main character said something so ... male.  This never happened in this story.   That's one of the things that really made this a wonderful read for me.

Extra points go to the author for giving Myfanwy a pet bunny.

I believe I'll be recommending this book quite a lot, especially to readers who like Simon Green's Secret Histories series.   I'm really looking forward to seeing what's next from this author (and will be treating myself to a copy of this book, hopefully, as soon as I have a bit of extra pocket money).

Here's an example of some of the writing I enjoyed:

p 98 ---  "Leather-covered armchairs were occupied by the elderly, the plump, the male.  This is not to imply that the occupants possessed only one of the above characteristics.  They were all, without exception, male.  Plumpness or age or both were preferred, but not mandatory."

p 62 "Myfanwy looked herself over in the mirror.  The hair she had swept back in a clip was coming loose, and her suit (although far more expensive than Ingrid's) was rumpled.  She'd neglected makeup entirely, and those damn black eyes lent her the appearance of a raccoon.  A raccoon that had gotten hit in the face.  After a lifetime of poor nutrition."

First sentencesDear 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 amswer is because I knew it would be necessary.  The complicated answer could take a little more time.

Thoughts on the cover:  I love how simple it is, with the crest and four images -- simple, striking, and perfect for the story.  I wish all covers could accomplish this.


Jo K said...

Sounds wonderful! It's on my to-read list. I love the cover, too. Great review!

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