The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, is a book that has been on my watch list for a long time. I originally came across it while looking for titles to add a little variety into my reading, and a lot of people I trusted told me to check it out. I held off for a long time as the book centers around a protagonist with amnesia, which is one of my absolute least favorite plot points. However, when I was looking for a book to throw into my book club’s reading list, I had a suspicion it would be generate good discussion and added it to our curriculum. This month was finally The Rook’s chance to shine, and shine it did. It impressed me with a story that has a lot more going for it than the blurb on the back suggests.
The Rook is hard to accurately categorize into a subgenre of fiction. The story takes place in modern day England and follows the story of a Myfanwy (pronounced like Tiffany with a M) Thomas, a member of a government agency that polices and handles all otherworldly happenings both inside and outside of England. The organization is filled with all sorts of people with strange powers who go out and handle strange situations. This, however, is actually not the focus of the book. Instead, our story primarily focuses on the life of our protagonist. Myfanwy is a Rook, a special high ranking operative that oversees a large part of the organization and is in charge of a great deal of the goings on. This is problematic as she has lost all her memories and has no idea how to do her job anymore. As mentioned before, the plot of The Rook begins with our protagonist waking up in a park with absolutely no memories and a letter in her pocket from her past self telling her what to do. While I usually hate amnesia, The Rook has an interesting new take on the concept as Myfanwy’s story is not about reclaiming her past memories. The Rook goes to great length to distinguish the two Myfanwys, past and present, and alternates following them as past Myfanwy tried to discover how she will lose her memories, and present Myfanwy tries to blend in and get by in a government organization she is supposed to be partially in charge of. Myfanwy is an incredible, deep, and interesting protagonist; in particular because the two versions are so different from one another they can be considered separate characters. It was a fascinating writing style that captured me as a reader and had me staying up to find out what would happen next.
Past Myfanwy communicates with her future self through a series of hundreds of letters she left in preparation for her eventual memory loss. This writing technique essentially allows O’Malley to cheat and dump worldbuilding on the reader quickly and seamlessly as past Myfanwy explains how things work to the memoryless present Myfanwy. Due to this, The Rook is able to have a lightning fast pace with tons of action, while not sacrificing any depth or power in its worldbuilding. The prose is fantastic and the entire book has a very dry british sense of humor that would occasionally take me by surprise and have me in stitches. The entire plot of the book circulates around finding the traitor that stole Myfanwy’s memories, but does a good job working in a variety of subplots and set pieces that make it the kind of book that is incredibly hard to put down. Myfanwy is also one of the best female protagonists I have read, feeling like a real person that anyone could relate to. Based on all the things I have said, I was prepared to give The Rook a perfect 10 around the 50 percent mark, but that is right around where it hit a few snags.
First, while most subplots that are introduced in the story are woven in very nicely, there are one or two introduced in the middle that seemed unnecessary. In particular, there is a subplot where she connects with long lost family that seemed extremely out of place in the story and just didn’t really add much. In addition, there were few holes in The Rook’s worldbuilding that I would have expected O’Malley to address. It is possible that he is saving this information for the sequel, Stiletto, out later this month, but with his letters from the past it would have been incredibly easy to patch the holes with little effort.
In the end, The Rook is still a marvelous novel that chronicles a captivating personal journey of a woman in a fascinating situation and fantastical setting. There were only a couple problems that held the book back from achieving the perfection I suspect O’Malley is capable of, but they are just small speed bumps on an otherwise fast paced ride. The Quill to Live definitely recommends The Rook to anyone and everyone, and I am extremely excited to see what Stiletto has in store for me in a few weeks.
Rating: The Rook – 8.5/10