The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Book Review

THE ROOK by Daniel O’Malley, Little Brown, h/c £16.99, p/b £9.25, Kindle £6.86 (£5.49 amazon.co.uk), http://www.hachettebookgroup.com

Reviewed by David Brzeski

‘The Rook’ is a combination of the urban fantasy and spy genres. Similar ground to, but very different from Charles Stross’ ‘Laundry’ series.

We are introduced to the main character, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas as she regains consciousness to find herself, battered and bruised and surrounded by corpses, who are all wearing latex gloves. The problem is, she has no memory of who she is, or how she came to be in that sorry situation.

She finds a letter on her person from herself. It seems she had known in advance that she was going to lose her memory and she provided herself with enough information to either disappear and start a new life, or work her way back into her old one and discover who the traitor was who wiped her memory.

It transpires that Myfanwy worked for a secret organization called the Checquy who battle the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She has supernatural abilities of her own, very powerful ones, but due to trauma suffered in her childhood she wasn’t considered field agent material. Luckily for Myfanwy, she was also extremely talented at administration, so her position as a “Rook” within the Checquy Court was secured.

We follow her as she gradually finds out more about her past in the form of letters left for her by her former self, while she tries to find out what is rotten within the Checquy. We soon discover one advantage to her memory loss in that she can no longer remember the trauma which psychologically crippled her effectiveness as a field agent. Along the way we are introduced to the other members of the Court. Gestalt, a hive mind with four bodies (three male and one female) is one of the most interesting and original.

While we are told these characters are all supernatural, they actually reminded me more of mutants, à la the X-Men, only perhaps a little weirder than anything Stan Lee ever came up with.

To complicate matters there’s the Grafters, genetically/alchemically engineered nasties from Belgium, who were thought wiped out after their attempted invasion of Britain in 1677. One of the nastiest forms that Grafters take is somewhat reminiscent of Lovecraft’s shoggoths.

The author’s technique of bringing Myfanwy to a cliffhanger situation, then pausing to give us an infodump in the form of another letter from pre-memory loss Myfanwy may be annoying to some, but he doesn’t leave you hanging too long and I found it worked quite well.

All in all it’s a superb effort for a first novel and I eagerly await more from Daniel O’Malley.

The book is currently only available as an import hardcover, or a kindle download in the UK, but a UK paperback edition is due in October.