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The Rook (2012)

by Daniel O'Malley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Checquy Files (1)

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2,4751794,649 (4.08)228
A high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles supernatural forces wakes up in a London park with no memory, no idea who she is, and with a letter that provides instructions to help her uncover a far-reaching conspiracy.

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English (177)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (179)
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
This was another one of my series-sampling audio listens, to see if I might want to pursue it in print someday.

Audio Narration
The narrator is Susan Duerden. I’d listened to her earlier this year already as the narrator for The Eyre Affair. I thought she did a much better job with this one. Her male voices were more believable and consistent, although she did have a tendency to make several of them sound flirtatious. I thought she did especially well with the main character who was narrating the story.

The main character, Myfanwy Thomas, finds herself in a park surrounded by bodies and absolutely no memory. She finds a letter in her pocket addressed to “Dear You”, apparently written by herself to herself before she lost her memories. This is how the book started, and I was immediately hooked.

The main story held my attention really well. I enjoyed learning about the place where she worked, meeting all her strange colleagues with special abilities, and seeing Myfanwy herself piece things together. I also really enjoyed seeing her (minor spoiler) surpass the abilities and competence she’d displayed before she lost her memories and surprise everybody. I enjoyed Myfanwy's sarcasm; it made me laugh out loud a few times. I also liked that the story wasn’t bogged down with any cliché romance subplots. Myfanwy does make a lot of random comments about guys she finds attractive, but that was as far as it went.

There's a mystery element, and a somewhat large cast of characters who don’t get a lot of page time and yet are important to the story. This was challenging for me in an audio format. The story had enough clues to keep me from getting lost, but I think I would have picked up on things better in print. I did enjoy this enough that I’d like to follow up on it in print someday.

The story wasn’t perfect, though. In particular, I thought there were some pacing issues. The story is interspersed with letters Myfanwy wrote to herself. I don’t normally have trouble with flashback types of scenes, or chapters that switch between different time periods or different POVs, or anything like that. In fact, I often enjoy that. In this case, I think my issue was a combination of the letter placement not fitting the expectations set in the beginning plus their placement feeling contrived. At first, the letters seemed to fit naturally in the story, placed at a point during which she had some time to herself to read one, or when she looked up some specific information she needed in the more organized notes. But later on, they were just slapped right in the middle of an action scene taking place in the present time frame, definitely not at a moment when she was actually pausing to read a letter. A chapter would end on a cliffhanger and then the next chapter would consist of a letter. At that point, the pace would slow way down and then we’d finish the letter and start the next chapter where we were dumped back in the middle of the action. The letters were often interesting, but I don’t know, the flow just seemed weird to me.

I also had some niggling annoyances with the ending. There’s quite a lot of content where adversaries sit and talk over how everything played out and explain all the various unanswered questions both to each other and to the reader. That never works very well for me and feels a little lazy. I also felt like some aspects of the plot also stretched credibility, especially how functional Myfanwy was in her old role when she couldn’t remember things she was expected to know on the spot. There were some mitigating factors like her secretary already knowing she had amnesia and everybody else having such low expectations for her though, and I wasn’t too bothered by some of the implausibility because I was enjoying the story.

This book has a complete story, and the main plot threads and questions are wrapped up pretty well. However, one loose end was tied up in kind of a hurry at the end, almost as an aside, without any real satisfying closure. I’m referring to the apparent capture of Grantchester which happened so quickly and with so little detail that I’m skeptical it happened at all. ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Aug 31, 2021 |
This was a fun story, the audiobook was well narrated, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series. ( )
  Enno23 | Aug 15, 2021 |
Nice genre casserole. The beginning grabbed me and I always like letters in a book. That these are written by Rook Thomas to her unknown future self is a good twist. There were a few false notes from these female characters but I was mostly impressed. And quite entertained. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
She came to a decision, pulled her feet out of the mire, and stepped carefully over the ring of bodies that were scattered around her. They were all motionless, and all of them were wearing latex gloves.

So far as openings go, that was certainly one to get my attention.

On top of that, one of the core conceits of the book is that the main character is suffering from amnesia[^ish]. So we get to learn about the world and its rules as she does. It's a pretty decent way to build up a complicated setting without having to dump everything all at once. Plus you get some amusing moments:

God, who knew it would be so horrendously complicated impersonating oneself?

The entire idea of the book ends up being a branch of the British government with supernatural powers designed to deal with supernatural threats. It's not the only book with that concept, but it's done well enough and there are a few neat twists in the world building. The powers in particular are amusing to read about:

Gestalt took to the Checquy like four strange, hive-minded ducks to water. Or maybe that should be one strange mind inhabiting four ducks. Damn it. This is why Gestalt is so irritating to work with.

Little boys with tusks. Teenage girls who could talk with clouds and get intelligible answers. Some poor youth who possessed a psychic control over flamingos.

One boy was linked to atmospheric phenomena in Iceland, but on such a deep and complex level that no one really understood how they were related.

Good times.

Structurally, the book is a bit rough, with action scenes intermixed with infodump letters from pre-amnesia Myfanwy to post. Interesting all, just quite a shift from time to time. There are some really gross violence / body horror bits and some downright hilarious dialog / descriptions.

One thing that annoyed me a bit was just how cavaeiler Myfanwy was about the whole 'secret government agent' thing. She hides things from her coworkers they really need to know, tells secrets to people she just met, and all around doesn't seem like a very good spy at times. The amnesia helps to explain it, but it's still jarring.

Still. If you like supernatural thrillers with spy novel overtones, this is a pretty wonderful book. It doesn't quite make it on my list of books to re-read some day, but I'm glad I read it and look forward to reading the sequel.

[^ish]: It's not actually clear if she's actually suffering from amnesia or had a personality transplant and the new Myfanwy[^name] is a totally different person from the old Myfanwy. It annoys me a bit that this isn't really resolved, although I guess to some extent, it doesn't actually matter in the end...

[^name]: It's Miffany. Just go with it. ( )
  jpv0 | Jul 21, 2021 |
Very creative, urban fantasy. Kudos to O'Malley for thinking up a great race of supernaturals, the Grafters. Myfawany Alice Thomas is one of two rooks, who focus is on administering a department battling supernatural beings in Great Britain. She wakes up with her memory blanked because she is getting too close to discovering a subversive element in the Checquy. Happily, a series of letters has been left by Myfawany to help her, and she becomes a stronger person, maximizing her "special" skills. Too slow at the outset, and perhaps too frentic at the end. I also found the use of italics annoying (about 50% of the book.) ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
I became intrigued by Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, The Rook, when Time book critic Lev Grossman raved, more than a month before the book’s release, that “this aging, jaded, attention-deficit-disordered critic was blown away.”

Indeed, The Rook is great, rattling fun, as if Neil Gaiman took Buffy the Vampire Slayer and crossed it with Torchwood.

It starts with a bang: Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a rainy London park, surrounded by a ring of dead bodies, all wearing latex gloves. She has no idea how she or the corpses got there. In fact, she doesn’t even know that she’s Myfanwy Thomas, because she is suffering from amnesia and remembers nothing about herself.

Myfanwy is a Rook, a junior-level member of the Court, an elite group of eight super-powered intelligence agents. The Court runs the Checquy Group, a British agency on Her Majesty’s Hyper-Secret Service, so powerful that it makes MI6 look lame. In fact, Myfanwy learns, “The Court answers to the highest individuals in the land only, and not always to them.”

Myfanwy discovers everything about herself from a dossier entrusted to her by “the original Myfanwy Thomas,” the person she was before she lost her memory. Her amnesia was no accident: One of her mysterious colleagues on the Court, she learns, is a traitor who wiped her memory and now wants her dead.

In the meantime, Myfanwy must step back into her own life and relearn everything about being Rook Thomas, all without anyone finding out what has happened to her. Her own life is anything but normal, because the Checquy Group is always on the lookout for monsters. One can never be too vigilant, since “Checquy statistics indicate that 15 percent of all men in hats are concealing horns.”

Thanks to the Checquy, Britons are blissfully unaware that supernatural forces constantly threaten the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. (The Checquy’s American counterpart is called the Croatoan, a little in-joke that is never explained but which students of American history will immediately get.) The worst of these threats to the U.K. are the Grafters, who come from Belgium, a mild-mannered nation that O’Malley manages to render extremely sinister.

Throughout a rip-roaring narrative, O’Malley off-handedly weaves deadpan humor. As a Rook, Myfanwy is more paper-pusher than field agent, and her job lacks glamour: “There’s a reason that there’s no TV show called CSI: Forensic Accounting.” She always gets stuck with tasks like “figuring out why the hell a two-door wardrobe in the spare room of a country house is considered to be a matter of national concern.”

But crises loom, duty calls, and Myfanwy soon finds herself using her own superpower to battle horrid Belgian monsters — at least whenever she isn’t “laboriously penning formal invitations to the members of the Court to come dine at the Rookery tonight before observing the unbelievably magical amazingness of the United Kingdom’s only oracular duck.

“Of course, I couched it all in slightly more impressive terms.”

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel O'Malleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Duerden, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For my father, Bill O'Malley, who read to me at bedtime,
and my mother, Jeanne O'Malley, who read to me the rest of the time.
First words
Dear You,
The body you are wearing used to be mine.
She stood shivering in the rain, watching the words on the letter dissolve under the downpour.
According to Thomas, the city had once been a veritable hotbed of manifestations, with every sorcerer, bunyip, golem, goblin, pict, pixie, demon, thylacine, gorgon, moron, cult, scum, mummy, rummy, groke, sphinx, minx, muse, flagellant, diva, reaver, weaver, reaper, scabbarder, scabmettler, dwarf, midget, little person, leprechaun, marshwiggle, totem, soothsayer, truthsayer, hatter, hattifattener, imp, panwere, mothman, shaman, flukeman, warlock, morlock, poltergeist, zeitgeist, elemental, banshee, manshee, lycanthrope, lichenthrope, sprite, wighte, aufwader, harpy, silkie, kelpie, klepto, specter, mutant, cyborg, blrog, troll ogre, cat in shoes, dog in a hat, psychic, and psychotic seemingly having decided that THIS was the hot spot to visit.
Thus, while other members of the organization attain high positions through their remarkable accomplishments in the field, I became a member of the Court simply through my work in the bureaucracy.

Does that sound lame? I'm very, very good. There's not a formal timeline for ascending to the Court. In fact, most people never get in. I am the youngest person in the current Court. I got there after ten years of working in administration. The next-youngest got in after sixteen years of highly dangerous fieldwork. That's how good an administrator I am.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles supernatural forces wakes up in a London park with no memory, no idea who she is, and with a letter that provides instructions to help her uncover a far-reaching conspiracy.

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"Dear You:
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 dead bodies — all wearing latex gloves. With no memory of who she is or how she got there, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and escape those who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in the Checquy, a secret government agency that protects the world against supernatural threats — from sentient fungus to stampeding ectoplasm — while keeping the populace in the dark. But now there is a mole on the inside, and this person wants Myfanwy dead.

In her quest to save herself and unmask the traitor, Myfanwy will encounter 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 could ever have imagined. And she must learn to harness her own rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability.

Suspenseful and hilarious — "Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters meets War of the WorldsThe Rook is an outrageously inventive debut novel for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime, or their supernatural thrillers with an agenda and a pencil skirt.

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Average: (4.08)
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