Review: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

The Rook by Daniel O'MalleyI pick up books for a lot of different reasons: a review makes it sound appealing; word of mouth; the title or the cover has caught my eye; I already like the author. Sometimes the thing that sets me reaching for the shelf (or the buy button) is actually meeting the writer.

I met Daniel O’Malley at Genrecon in 2012 and was instantly engaged by his wit, sardonic humour and, very possibly, his mop of endearing curly hair. It was an obvious conclusion that a man that funny and smart had probably written a funny and smart book, and as soon as I got home I bought his debut novel, The Rook, and began to read.

The Rook is indeed as smart and funny as its creator. A young woman wakes up in a London park with no memory, surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves and a bearing a remarkable letter in her coat pocket. It reads:

The body you are wearing used to be mine.

Thus begins Myfanwy Thomas’s frightening, dangerous and often very funny adventure into paranormal powers, even-more-secret-than-usual secret agents, just-as-secret histories and murky threats of world domination.

Myfanwy soon learns that she is a woman of strange powers, although her former self was more proficient at being a superb beaurocrat than any kind of superhero, and that she’s part of a secret British organization full of people more adept with their superpowers than she is. It’s treacherous ground to be walking when you know who you are and what you can do: when you’re a woman coping with amnesia, it’s the devil’s own business to know who to trust, let alone work out which of your super-powered colleagues is trying to kill you and why.

The Rook has sets an energetic pace, but doesn’t neglect character development as it tears along. Myfanwy may be rebuilding who she is nearly from scratch, but she has another past, and the emotional texture of her history is important to the Myfanwy she is becoming. It’s also relevant to the motivations behind the events that have led her to bluffing her way through daily paperwork as well as monstrous incursions in the field.

The humour and horror are just as well balanced as the action and reflection, and the central mystery is finally unveiled and addressed in a very satisfying manner.

I’m delighted that The Rook lived up to the promise inspired by its author, and I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series, which O’Malley assured us he was writing at the time of Genrecon.