The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Review by Corinne Donnelly
You know you’re in for a wild ride when a book begins with: “Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.” Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, The Rook, follows Myfanwy (pronounced “Miffany”) Thomas, a young British woman with supernatural powers who is an operative in a secret government organization called the Checquy. At the start of the novel, Myfanwy wakes up surrounded by dead bodies and with absolutely no knowledge of who she is. As she discovers through letters written to her by her former self, she was the target of an attempted murder, and she must now continue the investigation that led her to this predicament in the first place.
If the synopsis reels you in, O’Malley delivers from page one. His imagination abounds, particularly in the sheer amount of in-depth information he provides the reader. All of his characters possess intricate background stories, especially Myfanwy and her co-workers. Many of the people Myfanwy interacts with have their own unique powers. Her partner, Gestalt, is one consciousness shared across four bodies, three male and one female. Myfanwy also has a vampire as a co-worker, and a woman who can interfere in the dreams of anyone she chooses. Since Myfanwy’s investigation revolves around uncovering her attempted murderer, she is hyper-aware in all of her interactions, even those with whom she presumes she can trust, like her non-powered assistant. This lends beautifully to both character development and plot.
While O’Malley chooses to compose the majority of the novel in third-person limited, Myfanwy’s letters, written in second person perspective, provide much of the information her new self needs to function in such a strange world. The letters are so outrageously business-like, especially in light of Myfanwy’s unusual career, as well as what she has been going through, that it adds to the absurdity of the situation. Enhanced by O’Malley’s character choices, the tone of the novel is extremely enjoyable. He could have easily composed a character frightened by her situation and hesitant of change, but Myfanwy is much more nuanced than that. The past Myfanwy is highly efficient and adept at her job, but aloof and impersonal. The new Myfanwy is confident and intelligent with a killer sense of humor. She may do her job differently, but that doesn’t make her any less accomplished. Observing two sides of the same person is quite refreshing.
Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook is a unique reading experience that will hook you immediately. If you’re looking for a hefty novel (it clocks in at almost 500 pages) with an intricate world, complex characters, and pithy quotes that will make you literally laugh out loud, I highly recommend you pick it up right away. In fact, I suspect this may be my favorite fantasy novel of the year.