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Monday, February 13, 2012

The Rook by Daniel O' Malley (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order The Rook HERE
Read the first four chapters HERE
Watch the Book trailer HERE
Read Suvudu interview with author HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dan O’Malley was born and brought up in Canberra, Australia. He then came to USA for his further studies and graduated from Michigan State University. He also earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He currently works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats and also acts a spokesperson. This is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BLURB: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 bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Checquy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Checquy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters 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 ever could have imagined.

FORMAT/INFO: The Rook is 496 pages long divided over forty-three numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via the "new" Myfanwy Thomas and in first person via the form of letters by the "old" Myfanwy Thomas and an one-off third-person mini-chapter by Ingrid Woodhouse. The Rook is a standalone book however the author has plans for a sequel.

January 12, 2012 marked the North American hardback and e-book publication of The Rook via Little, Brown and Company.

ANALYSIS: Daniel O’ Malley’s The Rook is a debut which comes with high praise and lots of hype as well. When we received the review request, I read a couple of chapters and I was immediately hooked. This is the opening paragraph of the book and is an excellent hook for the book:
Dear You,
The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine. The filling in the far left tooth on the top is a result of my avoiding the dentist for four years. But you probably care little about this body’s past. After all, I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing. The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is because I knew it would be necessary. The complicated answer could take a little more time.”

The simple answer as well as the complicated one both takes a while to become apparent to the reader however the journey throughout until then is quite a pleasant one as I found it.

With that paragraph, the story of the Rook begins and introduces the reader to Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas who has two black eyes, more-than-few bruises and absolutely no memory of who she is and how she got here (here being standing in the rain in a park in London). She however finds two letters in her jacket that inform her of her name and what she has to do next. She then slowly makes her way to a safe place but not before encountering a few of her pursuers and then discovers her powers. She discovers more about herself via the letters left by the original owner of the body. The basic premise of the book is the presence of the organization known as the Checquy, which has a hierarchal similar to that of a side of a chessboard. It’s this organization that Myfanwy is a member of and holds the position of a Rook. Thus the story follows Rook Thomas as she has to learn what her role in the organization entails, potentially stave off a supernatural invasion and discover who was the person that caused this predicament to her old self.

The book was a delight to read with its mix of the Jason Bourne-like identity crisis and the way the author unveils the world and history slowly. The author has elaborately alternated the storyline with chapters in the current timeline and the letters from the "old" Myfanwy thereby making the reader go through the same confusion, which avails the "new" Myfanwy. This aspect was a great move by the author and while it will remind many of one of the most famous amnesia-tinged stories (the Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum). Readers will have to keep in mind that this book is much lighter than the aforementioned series, the mystery aspect of the book's plot is very strong and is the main thread that propels the story. The eventual mystery is also resolved satisfactorily in the climax and then the author has inserted a nice twist to the story thereby hinting at a sequel as well as making sure that the readers get a savory ending.

Another aspect of the story that resonated with me was its understated comedy, the book doesn’t really go all out on the humor front but it has its moments of dry humor which will surprise the reader and keep them chuckling along. Consider this as a good example of the story’s humor quotient:
With the sort of power these new processes granted them, the members of the brotherhood were in the perfect position to seize power. In any other country, a massive, bloody war would have ensued. Horrors would have stalked the land, unholy amalgamations of flesh would have fought on the fields and the nights would have held new unspeakable terrors.
Fortunately this is Belgium we’re talking about!”

With a succinct sense of humor, the author manages to make this story from becoming too dreary. The magic system is also unveiled along with the world history in the form of anecdotes and letters; this was great to read, as it didn't feel too much like an info-dump. The characterization was particularly good as Myfanwy’s development is very nicely shown and to contrast with that the letters which showcase her older persona. Lastly the part which made this book stand out from me was that while its an urban fantasy book, it very nicely avoids the genre trappings by not featuring the usual type of supernatural creatures, romantic angle/triangle sub-plot, etc. All these factors made this debut a very fun one to read.

For factors going against it, the biggest part would be that the pacing is a bit on the slower side and while the story develops along nicely the pace of the story never transforms into the express variety. It takes a while to pick up and but once it does, it does hold its own all the way to the climax. Readers who want a fast sort of read might not get what they want. Another aspect which felt funny to me was the story felt to be grappling the twin genres of YA and adult, there were some sections which felt as if the tale was YA but then after a few pages some plot twist/turn would come up to disavow it of the YA tag. Maybe this was what the author intended and if so then it was a great mix of a story.

CONCLUSION: The Rook is a good debut showcasing the author’s skills as a writer and plotter. It’s a book that genuinely makes the reader invested in the story and its characters. I was most certainly entertained and bemused by its whimsical nature and overall mystery-laced plot. Give it a try if you are in the mood for a urban fantasy book without the usual genre trappings, definitely a debut to remember.


SQT said...

I loved this book-- I'm pretty sure it'll be on my "best of" list for 2012.

Jen said...

Great review! I read this and loved it, and have been recommending it to everyone I know.

Mihir said...


I can see why this book has garnered so many great reviews, currently even I think its going to hit my year-end debut list. Let's see what other goodies are up in store for us :)


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Reader, This is a great review and surely makes me want to go out and buy the book right away!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I just finished reading The Rook and LOVED IT! Yes, it meandered initially, and then I got a little distracted at one point, but other than that, it kept me hooked and I enjoyed everything about this insanely fun ride! Can't wait for more from Daniel O'Malley!

rStephens said...

I listened to this book in audio ( I absolutely loved it. After having read three heavy books in a row, this one hit the spot and has me holding my breath for more from Daniel O'Malley.


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