The Rook (The Checquy Files #1) by Daniel O’Malley
Head of Zeus (Jan 2012) | Paperback, 512 pages
The story starts with a letter, a letter to Myfanwy Alice Thomas from Myfanwy Alice Thomas. Myfanwy wakes up in someone else’s body except it isn’t someone else’s body, it is hers. Confused? Well so is she. Myfanwy has two black eyes, has been severely beaten and surrounded by dead bodies. She finds a set of instructions in her pocket that lead her to the life she used to have. It seems that someone has wiped her memory and she is soon on the case to find out who did it and why.
We are soon immersed into Thomas’s world both from her personal experience and through the letters left by the original Thomas. Myfanwy discovers that she is a works for a convert organisation, the Checquy that is responsible for protecting the United Kingdom from a variety of supernatural enemies. Not only that but she also has a super power – she can take control of another person just by touching them. She has already found out that can come in very handy. The original Myfanwy hasn’t risen to power in the organisation based on her supernatural talents but rather, on her administrative skills! Myfanwy has risen to the rank of Rook and is a virtual powerhouse of information. She has become such a threat that someone decided to steal her memory in order to incapacitate her.
The Checquy is virtually the MI5 and is organised like a chess set with Pawns, Rooks, Chevaliers, Bishops and of course, running the show are the Lord and Lady. The Checquy is a lifetime job and it isn’t long before she finds out what happens if you ever try to leave. It isn’t pretty. She is driven to keep her ‘condition’ secret for fear of what may happen to her and uses the journal left by the original Thomas and a few Oscar winning performances to fumble her way through her job. Lucky for her she planned ahead. O’Malley successfully combines two different narrative styles into the novel with the letters and journal from the original Myfanwy written in the first person and the ‘present day’ Myfanwy written in the third person. The journal gives us the backstory to most of the characters, to the Checquy, observations about her colleagues and the Rookery where she lives. The letters/journal are very amusing and I laughed out loud a number of times and I found I looked forward to finding out what the original Myfanwy had to say just as much as I did finding out what the present day one was up to next. For example, here is what she thought of her apartment in the Rookery.
In many ways, the residence is the worst part of your new life. Compared to the decor, the fact that someone is trying to kill you is almost tolerable. There are two such apartments; its just my luck that I got the one whose previous owner didn’t die but instead rose to become the most powerful man in the group, and my immediate supervisor. He insists on asking about the residence ever time we meet, which is at least three times a week. So I’ve never been able to redecorate.
Myfanwy is trying to juggle her day job fighting paperwork, pretending she knows who and what everyone is and trying to find out who wants her out of the picture. Just to add to the excitement she gets called in to investigate a series of nasty attacks which leave her coated in ‘slurm’ and several of Checquy agents dead. Its not long before the situation heats up and not just normal citizens but the Checquy itself is under attack and Myfanwy takes control to hopefully save the day…and herself in the process.
O’Malley creates a rich and diverse world in which to set this story, as well as, interesting characters. We meet a number of Myfanwy’s supernaturally enhanced colleagues both via the journal and through her work in the Rookery. The ones that stand out however are The Gestalt, the quadruplets controlled by 1 mind, Alrich the vampire, Heretic Gubbins the man who can twist himself into any shape and Lady Linda Farrier who can manipulate people through their dreams. There are many more and just as well developed and entertaining but it is Myfanwy that is really the star of the show as we get to meet the woman she was and the one she has become. One of my favourite passages occurs when Myfanwy (the original) describes how Alrich comes to work for the Checquy.
Bishop Alrich is a vampire. Despite this, I would urge you not to brandish any holy symbols at him during Court meetings. Quite aside from the fact that they won’t work, it is very bad manners and would make for an inconvenient break from the meeting agenda.
Anyone who has sat through a bureaucratically run meeting will recognise the extreme faux pas of breaking from a meeting agenda! This is just one example of how O’Malley tranforms something relatively mundane like meeting etiquette into a fantastic supernatural workplace obsversation. The Rook is a truly unique book and one of my top 5 reads this year. O’Malley creates an ingenious tale with witty dialogue, engaging characters and an excellent mystery. It is truly amazing debut novel that will have you gripped from the first few pages.
The Rook is one of the best books I have read this year and more than worthy of the five stars. O’Malley is clearly a genius and has created not only a great mystery but a clever merging of first and third person dialogue. Characterization is strong and the world in which Thomas lives is well structured and rich in detail. I thought the premise of the plot was unique and well-constructed. I was cheering for Myfanwy all the way through the book and found the dialogue extremely witty. If it was possible I would have given Rook more than 5 stars. Loved it!
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