By Rafael A. Hernandez
The world of science fiction and fantasy has been convoluted as of late. Modern writers are skewed on different sides of very distinct factions. There are the select few who strive to stay original and fresh, taking tropes and ideas of their predecessors and evolving them into unique iterations for current readers. Then there are those who follow the trend of regurgitation, finding the most popular genre elements and transposing them into their own prose. Luckily, the latter cannot be said about Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel The Rook, which attributes itself solely to the quality of the former. And how grateful you will be for this fact.
The Rook takes place in a fictional United Kingdom where the government, in addition to its various covert sectors, also has a specialized department of clandestine supernatural agents known as “The Chequey”. The protagonist, a high ranking officer titled Rook by the name of Myfawny Thomas, has lost her memory and begins to unveil a world filled with hive minded twin bodies, vampires and dream manipulating aristocrats. She is part of an eight group council responsible for protecting the country from abnormal threats, and within this group resides the one responsible for her amnesia and attempted murder.
Character relationships are key to the progress of this narrative. Myfawny shares a very unique relationship with her mental predecessor; a disembodied personality whose existence remains solely in a series of letters left for the new, amnesiac Myfawny. Having a current protagonist and a previous one make for very complicated emotional development for the character as the reader begins to see Myfawny change herself to contrast her former personality. Her unique abilities as a supernatural agent take shape in ways that were unimaginable to her predecessor resulting in a far more assertive and imposing personality, contrasting the story’s array of villains.
O’Malley shows his ability to craft uncommon character traits and stands out because of it. He does not simply write in a vampire, he adds a macabre, devilish quality so the character does not appear to be a carbon copy of current standards. Designs for characters do echo precedents ranging from fantasy fiction to graphic novels but O’Malley does an excellent job in portraying these people as unique human beings. They are not gods or godlike as many super-powered characters tend to be. There is no comic book death in this novel. Yes, the characters have powers. Yes, they are formidable. No, they are not invincible. MANY characters die in this book, whether they be the lowly soldier or a top member of the Chequey. Mywfawny’s own vulnerabilities are shown all throughout the novel. Despite her power to control people’s bodies, she nevertheless finds herself in a heap of nearly insurmountable trouble.
Though the characters are top notch and well designed, certain plot points of The Rook do lack. It is not to say that the story as a whole is poor. It is sophisticated, thorough and engaging. Narration is without even the slightest clutter and keeps the reader constantly entertained if not riveted. But there are instances in the story where further explanation would be appreciated. The significance of certain character introductions seems lax and underwhelming- namely the entrance of Myfawny’s long lost sister. As for the conspiracy surrounding Myfawny, culprits are discovered in fairly simple and efficient fashion but one cannot help for a greater climax after pages of escalation. For the amount of character and narrative collateral there never seems to be a pay off of absolution for the reader. Of course the antagonists are brought to justice but the action is almost too swift and unrealized. Perhaps O’Malley’s choice not to create a full-fledged debacle for his first novel is an astute choice, just not a satisfying one. The Rook makes promises for a sequel if not a series to follow so perhaps in the upcoming chapter readers will gain further expansion of this decently established story.
This novel is definitely a must read despite its slight short comings. With excellent characters and a dynamic supernatural world, fiction fans and fantasy fans alike will receive an abundance of pleasure from this text. If intrigue still remains evanescent, there is at least an awesome dragon slaying scene to be had; always an enjoyable prospect.