Today, our pick is one of our favorite books of 2012, Daniel O'Malley's The Rook.
Supernatural Saturday is a rotating segment with Sci-Fi Saturday and YA historical Saturday, where we review our favorite books in those three categories!
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 486 pages
Published January 11th 2012 by Little, Brown and Company
Amazon/ IndieBound/ Book Depository
Two-second recap: The Rook brings to life a world of super-natural intrigue, where ancient top-secret facilities, an amnesiac heroine, and a host of powered individuals (and creatures) rule the day. This is a book that will make you sit up late at night reading feverishly, hoping against hope that you'll never come to the final page.
So. Back in fourth grade, a relatively famous author came to visit my class. When asked what advice she would give to aspiring writers, she thought for a minute and said: "Have one darned good opening line. Because it's that opening line that get people hooked, and have them coming back for more."
Clearly, Daniel O'Malley got that same pep talk at some point, because The Rook has one hell of an opener:
"The body you are wearing used to be mine."
THAT line, ladies and gentlemen, was like a lightning strike for me. It immediately hooked me in from the get-go, and kept me absolutely riveted for all of The Rook's 486 pages.
I toted the book around for several days on end, and cheerfully committed several social faux pauxs in the progress - reading at the table while out at dinners with friends; discussing the book at black-tie political fundraisers; and basically, sought any excuse I could to tell everyone about this awesome book I was reading.
And now, I'm glad to finally share my love for the book on the Reading Nook.
Myfanwy (pronounced MIFF-uh-nee, like Tiffany) Thomas is having a seriously bad day.
After waking up in a rain-drenched London park surrounded by a ring of dead bodies all wearing latex gloves, and absolutely no memory of who she is, Myfanwy discovers two envelopes in her pocket marked 1 and 2.
The first envelope is a letter to her, from her. And it's the key which opens a door to a secret London underworld of ancient rivalries individuals (and creatures) imbued with supernatural powers, and the world of the Chequy - a top-secret government organization tasked with keeping the average British citizen protected, and blissfully unaware of the supernatural threats which surround them.
Thomas, who turns out to be a high-ranking member of the Chequy court - a Rook - has both power and responsibilities beyond her wildet dreams. But like the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. And now, it's up to the new Myfanwy to use the clues left by her former self, to track down the individuals responsible for her memory loss, and prevent them from striking again.
* The characterizations
O'Malley sets himself up from the beginning, by being in the difficult situation of having a protagonist who is essentially a blank slate. The new Myfanwy doesn't have a full background; can't remember her motivations, and sure as hell has no idea why anyone would want to kill her.
In the hands of a lesser writer, the initial lack of a character trajectory could have gone very badly - e.g. Myfanwy could have either waffled from taking action of any kind, or could have chosen to just emulate the pre-amnesiac Myfanwy, and lived her (somewhat mousy) life accordingly. O'Malley not only writes a very plausible arc, he takes care to develop very distinct and separate personalities for both Myfanwys, while also showing hints of how pre-amnesia Myfanwy could have evolved to post-amnesia Myfanwy, in a different life.
All of the secondary characters are rich, complex and creative as well. The other members of the Chequy all have their distinctive, unique quirks - and the reader is offered informative glimpses into their lives through conversation and sketches. There are also other secondary characters who appear both in flashback, and in the latter half of the novels, who all leave their mark.
* The plotting
Let's face it - O'Malley pretty much wins the award for most Bad!Ass! first chapter, ever. He throws the reader into the action immediately, and doesn't let up from there. Even in her quieter moments, Myfanwy is constantly uncovering and discovering clues to her past life; clues to her role at the Chequy; and even clues to her own history; all of which add to the bigger picture of who tried to kill her, and why she no longer has her memory.
To misappropriate a metaphor from Joss Whedon - O'Malley's plotting is like an onion- you're uncovering layers and layers of the story, until you get to the heart of the mystery.
* The writing/world-building
The world of the Rook is is incredibly complex. Not only has O'Malley incorporated the historical complexities that come with setting a story in London - and as someone who lived there for an incredibly long time, he's one of the few authors who really captures London in print - he's also built a layered, complex world for the Chequy. The mythology and history are clearly well thought out, and ridiculously fun to read.
Also, O'Malley does an excellent job of steering away from overused troupes and cliches. He could have easily had Myfanwy fall into the traps so common for other fictional female protagonists in similar situations - e.g. have Myfanwy find out about their powers through a guy, (whom they'll then conveniently fall in love with), or have Myfanwy find out that she used to be the most badass member of the Chequy, and she just can't remember.
The fact that we learn very early that Myfanwy is very super-naturally gifted, but was known more for her administrative abilities than anything else, and there is no hint of a love interest anywhere, makes for a refreshing change.
Also, it needs to be said: O'Malley writes from a female POV fairly well. And he manages to get both British and American lingo down cold.
What didn't work:
In all honesty, I loved the book so much - I'm tempted to say nothing.
But objectively speaking, I'll concede that the final few chapters and ending could have been reworked for more coherency. There were some instances in which it did feel like O'Malley had written himself into a corner, and had to come up with some creative (and occasionally, inexplicable) solutions to get out of that corner.
However, this is only a very minor nitpick, and definitely does not hamper from your overall enjoyment of the book.
The Rook is one of those rare books to come along, which deftly handles all of the technical elements and logistics of science fiction and urban fantasy, while keeping the tone (largely) light, fun and enjoyable. With unparalleled humor and wonderful writing, O'Malley has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's a rising star in the world of fiction, and definitely one to watch.
I highly recommend this book for everyone, but especially fans of Douglas Adams, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes - both the stories and the new BBC series.
(And yes - I'm being serious about the last comparison. I have a feeling that Holmes fans, especially those who love the BBC series, will seriously dig O'Malley's writing).