The Rook is one of my absolute favourite novels of all time. It’s a rollicking ride and I love it.
The story begins with our protagonist waking up in a park, surrounded by corpses who are all wearing latex gloves. She has no memory of who she is, but finds in her pocket a note that begins: Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.
Honestly, this was pretty much all I needed to start reading, but I’ll give you a little more in case you’re a harder sell than I was. Though if you decide you’re interested already and stop reading this review, I fully support this decision.
Our amnesiac protagonist finds out that, before she lost her memory, she was Myfanwy (rhymes with ‘Tiffany’) Thomas, a high-ranking official in the Checquy Group – the United Kingdom’s supernatural secret service. The Checquy’s job is to safeguard the nation against supernatural threats, using their supernatural (and non-supernatural) members.
Myfanwy decides to step back into her old life, aided by an impressive dossier of briefings and letters prepared by her former pre-amnesia self (who had been warned by several prophecies of her impending memory loss). Quite apart from the challenge of taking up this new role, though, Myfanwy finds that she also has to deal with a threat – the very people who wiped out her memory in the first place, who seem intent on destroying her.
Alright, premise summary aside, onto the reviw:
I fucking love this book. It’s action-packed, magic-packed urban fantasy headed by a two kickass heroines: Myfanwy of the present, and Myfanwy of the past. It’s part-epistolary novel, with chapters frequently switching between the present Myfanwy’s life, and past Myfanwy’s dossier notes. The former offers a fantastically fun look through the eyes of an amnesiac desperately trying to conceal her amnesia as she runs a secret organisation, while the latter provides informative and adventure-filled insights into the daily goings-on of the Checquy, told from the perspective of the shy but formidably competent bureaucratic genius that is past Myfanwy.
The plot of this book is thoroughly engaging, as is its premise, which is supported by highly rich, detailed, and endearingly believable worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is mostly done through past Myfanwy’s dossier, so it can come off as a bit of an infodump at times, but I personally found them all magnificently fascinating enough that I didn’t mind a bit (the fact that their existence is legitimately justified by the plot also helps).
Plot and premise aside, I’m also quite a fan of O’Malley’s writing style here: it’s clear and deliberate, with no hint of purple prose or pretentiously highbrow longwindedness, while at the same time effectively carrying all the detail and feeling needed to pull the reader into the story. There’s quite a bit of humour, too, mostly of the somewhat dry and/or self-indulgently witty variety, which I personally enjoyed.
All in all, this book is a deliciously bloated ride through the world of the British secret secret service, propelled by an engaging plot, excellent worldbuilding, and a fantastic freak show of superpowered dramatis personae. In other words, an absolute joy to read.