The Rook by Daniel O’Malley had been languishing on my Mt TBR for some time when the TV series was released. I watched the first season, or maybe part of the first season, before eventually wandering off to shinier shows. More recently, I dusted off the book because it fit a prompt for last year’s Magical Readathon and I figured I’d be able to skim through it fairly quickly since it didn’t seem all that interesting.
Friends, I have learned my lesson once again: always read the book first. It turns out the TV show took itself way too seriously, added some distasteful elements for drama and completely murdered the tone of the book.
Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a London park with no memory of who she is and surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. In her pocket, she finds a letter from her former self offering her a choice: flee and start a new life, or return to the supernatural organisation she worked for and discover who has betrayed her.
The Checquey is rather like if the X-Men ran MI5. All of the top level members (named after chess pieces) have supernatural powers, including Myfanwy. But Myfanwy’s real superpower is a gift for administration. This delighted my heart in so many ways. In fact, the beginning annoyed me a bit with the way the old Myfanwy was so amazingly organised — leaving letters and binders full of information on her life — while the new one seemed more bumbling and reactive. However, her bewilderment makes it all the more satisfying as she grows into her powers, both supernatural and personal.
The letters and binder the old Myfanwy has prepared makes for a smart, plot-relevant way of info-dumping. The reader gets to learn about the people and organisation along with the new Myfanwy. As the book progresses and there’s less need for explanation, these morph more into a diary, giving us a glimpse into the old Myfanwy’s life and the predicament in which she found herself. It becomes a clever way to offer more pieces of the puzzle. Because the heart of the novel is a mystery: who has betrayed Myfanwy and why?
While this heart is very genuine, the story is also very tongue-in-cheek. Myfanwy’s organisational powers are definitely part of this. It amused me how Myfanwy never picked up on the way the underlings around her were terrified of her as a stickler for procedure and protocol. There was also a lot more slime and tentacles than you’ll see in James Bond (and the TV series; why, oh why did they cut that out?). Some of the villains also played with James-Bond-style tropes in a way that was very entertaining.
Another big strength of the book was the relationships between the female characters. It’s hard to say much here without giving spoilers, but I appreciated the variety in the relationships between the women and how they were never in competition. It was also a delight to see multiple competent women at work. And while Myfanwy is not exactly the celibate type, her focus is most definitely her career and not her love life; there was no romance shoehorned in.
In conclusion, I’m immensely relieved that I didn’t let the TV series talk me into unhauling The Rook without reading it first. I would have missed out on a smart, funny book that was an absolute delight. I’m very happy I have the sequel on hand… and that a third in the series is scheduled for release later this year.
Published: January 2012 by HarperCollins
Format reviewed: Paperback, 484 pages
Series: The Checquey Files #1
Genres: Science fiction
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon (AU, CA, UK, US) ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Indiebound ~ Kobo