Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook

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.

The shame, the dishonor of it all. Life is surely a deceiving harlequin who makes promises of joy and love but upon her embrace she thieves away your every possession. That is much how I have felt over the course of these past couple weeks. I think I have thrice complained about my lack of time to write reviews and regularly check in with you fine people. That is because my final quarter of university study has proven to be riddled with expository duties so horrendous that they would bring even the most seasoned of scholars to a whimper. I feel a bit jostled by the amount of essays I must write. Kind of like this…

And the worst of it all is, I have finished reading The Rook but I will not be able to write a review for it, sharing the fate of The Passage. Oh sad times. I will keep updating everybody on the cool new stuff going on in the literary and film world around me but it will have to be in short tidbits. My infinite apologies. If I may offer some words of encouragement to my fellow readers, please DO read The Rook and The Passage. If I cannot officially review them, at least I can urge you to read these fantastic books. 

I Don’t Know How To Read: The Rook

Okay, let us be honest- I actually do know how to read. Hence why I am able to dish out these posts in nothing flat while listening to an obnoxious techno band from New York without losing brain cells. Yeah, I’m kind of awesome, didn’t you know? Anywho, I purchased a book a few weeks back, just around the time I was being caved in by textbooks for my spring quarter classes (finished in three weeks!). This book is known as The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. And let me tell you- amazing.

If any of you have read Hellboy or BPRD (which are comic books for the non-graphic novel-ly educated bunch) you will be at home with this book. It is a supernaturally themed novel that spans between the action and mystery genres. In many ways it is like a discreet James Bond novel with superpowers. But the narration is excellent and the characters are diverse, not speaking solely about their powers either. What is amazing is how there are technically two different protagonists but they are the same person. I won’t explain how that works, go read it. I am only half way through but I can already say this is one of my favorite books of this year if not ever.