Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: The Rook

Title: The Rook
Author: Daniel O' Malley
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Spy Thriller


An amnesiac woman stands shivering in the rain, surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves.  The helpful letter in her pocket explains that her name is Myfanwy (pronounced Miff-un-ee, rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas, she's deathly allergic to bee stings, and people are out to kill her.  For it turns out that Myfanwy Thomas is a Rook, a supervising agent in a secret British organization dedicated to combating the supernatural.  Unfortunately, a traitor lurks among the elite, someone who erased Myfanwy's memory and wants her dead.  It's up to Myfanwy to uncover this conspiracy--provided she can hide her amnesia, figure out how to use her supernatural powers, and survive her first day in the office.


I read the first 100 pages with a smile across my face.  The Rook had everything I look for in a good read: action, drama, humor, suspense, all tangled up in an intoxicating mystery.  The agency to which Myfanwy belongs, the Checquy (pronounced Sheck-Eh), is a cross between a British Men in Black and X-men and includes such characters as Ms. Ferrier, a stately Lady who can enter another person's dreams, and Gesault, a hive mind controlling 4 different bodies.  Into this world, a post-Myfanwy flounders, finds her bearings, and flourishes.

Unfortunately, the more Myfanwy triumphs, the less I found myself liking her.  Pre-amnesiac Myfanwy, despite having an incredible supernatural power, was timid and relied on her superb organization skills to climb the ranks.  When she learns she'll lose her memories and personhood alike, she struggles with loneliness and despair, resolves to help her successor, and overcomes her meek nature in order to hunt down the truth.  Through her writing, she forms a bond with her post-amnesiac self.

A one-sided relationship, it turns out.  Post-amnesiac Myfanwy presumably reads her predecessor's poignant and heart-breaking letters, but hardly reacts to them.  Post-amnesiac Myfanwy is a bold action girl, unafraid to explore her superpower.  Unfortunately, her powers are so incredible, it's hard to fear for her in dangerous situations.  She also tends to use them to push her weight around.  As post-amnesiac Myfanwy relies on her powers to carry her through life, she becomes increasingly abrasive, impulsive, and unreflective.  Bodies pile up, but she has no time to weep for them.

The book starts to unravel in the last 100 pages.  A late action sequence is a virtual repeat of an earlier one.  Major villains suffer their defeats off-screen.  Mysteries are hastily exposited, rather than solved.  By the time I put the book down, my smile was gone and I sighed.  A tolerable read to be sure, but it could have been so much more.

And that's what's so disappointing.  Much like Timid Myfawny is shoved aside to make room for Bold Myfawny, so too do the reflective portions of the story fall to the wayside in favor of relentless--and often pointless--action.

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