Why I Read It: The opening of this book snagged me faster than anything’s snagged me in a very long while. Then when The Book Smugglers gave it an 8 out of 10, I knew this was a new release I had to get my hands on, so I did.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: “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 Chequy 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 Chequy 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.
Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. Given the particular pros and cons of the book that I had, I’ll end up venturing into spoiler territory, so if you’re wanting to remain surprised, just skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be good to go! Everyone else, onward.
Discussion: So let me say: the opening is the best, most exciting part of the book. The opening had me thinking the book was a body-switching story, where paranormal investigators could utilize different bodies. Thinking of that kind of plot, you can see where I was chomping at the bit for that kind of story when I read that opening.
Now, because the book was NOT what I expected (a clever way to reveal an amnesiac’s story) doesn’t mean that I’m judging the book harshly for not being what I wanted it to be. The Rook has a lot to offer. It passes the Bechdel test in spades, and there’s no love story, no love interest. The only hint of any sort of romantic anything is Myfanwy commentary on how cute various co-workers are, you know? That’s it. And for a book that’s essentially an urban fantasy? That’s freaking fantastic. You’ve got girl power, but girl power that utilizes intellect instead of physical violence. You’ve got women working together, being heroes rather than love interests. And, as I mentioned before, there’s no love interest. If you’re looking for an urban fantasy that breaks the Buffy-lit mold, this is it, and I applaud the book for doing so.
And while I was disappointed that this wasn’t a body-switching plot, I found O’Malley’s handling of amnesia to be quite clever. Because amnesia is one of my least favorite plot devices. Amnesiacs in fiction always do STUPID THINGS, like trust people they should OBVIOUSLY not trust, and the plot is always about getting the memories back, and frankly, it can get a little boring, because while the memories might be unique, the person who’s wiped free of them always tends to be bland and boring.
What worked here was a few things: 1) Myfanwy knew that she would, at some point in the future, lose her memory. And because she’s crazily detail oriented, she PREPARED for this like nobody’s business, knowing that one day, she’d open her eyes with no memory of anything at all, and she’d need a helping hand. Who better to help an amnesiac than her pre-memory loss self?
The other reason this worked is 2) the Myfanwy we meet at the start has a clear personality, one we learn is really different from her predecessor, and it’s cool to see Myfanwy stand up for herself and learn that her previous incarnation would’ve never done such a thing.
So in many ways, I kept wondering if maybe I did get a body-snatching story, but by the end, when we learn how Myfanwy lost her memory in the first place, it makes sense that it was so complete that I kept reading “different person” instead of “amnesiac waiting to get memories back.” Because with rare exception, Myfanwy doesn’t get flashes of memory, and the book isn’t about her recovery her memory or even recovering her identity. She assumes it, armed with the knowledge she left herself, and basically wings it. It works rather well, and I give the author many kudos for pulling it off.
Mostly. All that being said, the beginning was still the most exciting part of the book for me.
One of the things I found myself struggling with was tone. There were times I thought this was going to be a nail-biting thriller. There were times I wondered if perhaps the author was reaching for a more humorous tone, a modern version of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate voice. Other times, the tone just read a little too generically for me, sometimes slipping its POV grasp and sliding into someone else’s head during a single scene, and then there were a few POV cameos of other characters that I found completely unnecessary. That, and while I loved how cleverly the author used the letters to self to provide Myfanwy and the reader information, the conceit lost its sheen when the letters ended up dictating exact dialogue pre-amnesia Myfanwy experienced. And because it wasn’t made known that Myfanwy had an eidetic memory, then I can’t buy word-for-word dialogue revealed in letters.
That, more than anything, strained my suspension of disbelief. I was never sure what kind of book I was reading, and maybe that just means shame on me for trying to fit it into a pre-defined genre or subgenre, but I found this fluid vagueness to define itself a bit irritating, because I felt like I had to reset my expectations every time I learned something new about O’Malley’s world.
For example, the majority of the book is close third person POV, focusing all on Myfanwy’s observations. But on page 305, we’re pulled back into almost an omniscient narrator voice for the sake of humor:
“Uh, yeah. It’s Friday. That’s why I called. I was wondering if you wanted to come out tonight. A few of us are going clubbing and I thought that if you weren’t busy, you might want to come.”
“Clubbing? Clubbing what?” asked Myfanwy.
“Do you mean self-defense?”
“What are you talking about?” asked the girl whose world did not consist primarily of supernatural security.
“What are you talking about?” asked the girl whose social life consisted primarily of occasionally going out to lunch and visiting sites filled with paranormal malevolence.
I get that’s supposed to be funny, especially in context, but considering it’s not the overall tone of the book, it throws me a bit. It’s the drawback on “the girl who” instead of keeping us tight on Myfanwy’s POV, you know?
And while I feel like, as a whole, O’Malley handled the whole amnesia thing rather well, there is the question of how the original operation dealt with something like muscle memory. Myfanwy freaks out when she has to sign something, worried the signatures wouldn’t match, but why wouldn’t they? Even if knowledge has been erased, muscle memory would still work, right? She obviously still knows how to write, so the erasure couldn’t have been THAT deep, right?
The humor sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t. I got the giggles over the dragon-birthing flashback scene, where we learn that Bittner had already empathically bonded with the dragon and they’d continue to bond after hatching. They bonded all right: the dragon took Bittner’s head off!
The plot felt a little predictable, though I didn’t have any idea how, exactly, Myfanwy lost her memory. But what was given in the letters, I felt, should surely relate to what was happening now, so it stood to reason that all of these things would come together by the end. True, the dragon-hatching and the vampire bit really didn’t play a role in this book, but unless I miss my guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the start of a series (especially because of the vampire; after all, Myfanwy did have scars on her neck, and the vampire pops up at strange places in the narrative). At any rate, some times I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be shocked or what when certain plots played out (like the five Gestalt instead of four), though I did like how my predictions left room for surprise. I didn’t suspect, for example, that the fifth Gestalt was a baby.
The ending is a bit anti-climatic. On one hand, the action portion of it was a little fuzzy and hard to really visualize in terms of what happened and why. A lot of what’s accomplished is Myfanwy learning how to use her powers in new and unexpected ways, so while it’s not quite a deus ex machina, it does sometimes feel a little too inconvenient. And while I like that the very, very end, the threat of the Grafters, is actually handled through diplomacy rather than butt-kicking action, there’s a little bit of a “That’s it?” feeling when it’s over.
My Rating: 6 – Worth Reading, with Reservations
I’ll say it again: the beginning was, for me, the best part of the book. That doesn’t mean the rest of the book doesn’t have anything to offer. It does. It passes the Bechdel test in spades, features a heroine who saves the day with intellect and diplomacy versus physical ass-kicking, and even better, doesn’t have a hint of romance in it. For readers looking for a fun urban fantasy that isn’t Buffy-lit, this is your book. Also, O’Malley’s got quite a clever take on amnesia, though it requires a certain suspension of disbelief that not all readers will be able to accomplish (though considering the fact I hate amnesia stories and this worked as a whole? I feel qualified in saying it works well). That being said, the while the book does have plenty of good to offer, I felt a wee bit let down, partially due to my own expectations and partially due to the tone not quite ever figuring out what it wants to be. That’s okay: this is a debut after all, but I found myself wishing I’d gotten the Kindle version instead, because the book itself is rather large, and I would’ve had more fun reading it on the Kindle.
Also, while this book certainly stands on its own two feet, I suspect this is the first of a series. I can’t find anything on the author’s website to confirm or deny this (though I didn’t look very hard), but I wouldn’t be surprised if we meet Myfanwy again in the future. While the story isn’t really about recapturing her memory, it is about finding out WHY she lost it to begin with, and because this book answers that question, perhaps the next question is seeing what’s next, and if she’ll ever recover the memories she lost. However, I’m not sure the “letters to self” device would work for more than one book. Even in this book alone, there were places I had trouble buying into the concept, as clever as it was (and really, it worked on the whole).
Cover Commentary: It’s a little plain. Also, and you can’t tell this from the image, but in person it’s the shiny kind of gloss cover, and I wish it had more of a thicker, matte finish. It’d certainly look awesome in that finish for a trade.