Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook is a fairly ambitious novel. It seeks to blend espionage and the supernatural together into a humorous adventure about life “on Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service.” And apart from a certain unevenness, I’m happy to say that he’s mostly succeeded. The good things about this book far outweigh the problems.
At the beginning of the book, we meet Myfanwy Thomas–except she’s not really Myfanwy. The original Myfanwy had her memories and personality destroyed in a complex conspiracy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Myfanwy II opens her eyes in the middle of a park, surrounded by dead people. Using letters written by Myfanwy I, Myfanwy II gets to safety and begins investigating what happened to her predecessor. But first, she–and we, the readers–have to get used to Myfanwy I’s unusual occupation as Rook for a secret organization that polices Britain’s weirdnesses. Myfanwy II gets a crash course in her job via the aforementioned letters and manages to settle in surprisingly well. She has more gumption than her previous incarnation, making her an entertaining narrator and heroine.
The plot meanders, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By the end, what seemed like episodic scenes of Myfanwy II dealing with the outre cases that come her way actually turn out to be clues to the large conspiracy that took Myfanwy I’s memories. Over the course of the book, Myfanwy II has to deal with overgrown, man eating fungus, skinless men in fish tanks, genetic manipulators, along with assorted villains. I have to hand it to O’Malley for handling all those different plot threads.
As I mentioned before, there are hints of unevenness, mostly in the dialog. The narrative wavers between taking itself seriously and then it all abruptly becomes a big lark, with characters bantering away while horrible things happen in the background. The banter is out of place. It’s funny, sure, but the book works a lot better when it takes itself seriously. When it does, you end up taking the story more seriously. It’s much more engrossing that way.
I daresay that this is the start of a series, and one I’m very looking forward to reading. There’s a lot of originality here. O’Malley put a wealth of detail into it, created an entire alternate history for his Checque organization. The characters are well drawn (except when they’re bantering too much). And the plot is marvelous.