Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: The Rook

I've been hearing good things about The Rook by Daniel O'Malley lately. My brother obtained a copy from the local library and liked it, and I heard from someone in writing group that it was good as well. The premise as posited on The Big Idea (on John Scalzi's blog) sounded interesting: a highly placed member of the supernatural arm of the British government gets amnesia. What happens to the woman who wakes up in her body?

Let's just start off with a fact, shall we? I picked this book up yesterday afternoon... and finished it around midnight. It's long, but I could not put it down. Consequently, we ate a late lunch, and then I read until I finished it, and then we ate some dinner and went to bed. Totally worth it.

Our main character, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) has some supernatural powers, and she is also frighteningly good at administration. Match made in heaven: she has a high administrative office in the Chequy, an organization in Britain devoted to handling supernatural... issues. Unfortunately, she makes some enemies in the organization that lead to her losing her memories completely. That's where the book starts. New Myfanwy now has to use her brains, powers, and the very thorough notes left by her predecessor to track down her enemies and find the source of corruption in the Chequy. Or she could run away and start a safe new life. But that wouldn't make for much of a book, now would it?

Though this book has a large cast of side characters, I felt like O'Malley did an excellent job at giving them enough depth without spending too much time on each one. Old Myfanwy's notes on her colleagues work very well to help pull this off. Whenever another colleague entered the scene for some substantial interaction with Myfanwy, she would frantically consult her binder and review the summary of that individual so that she (and we) knew who they were. While this tactic could fall flat on its face, the summaries are interesting enough in their own right to keep the story moving forward, even though they interrupt the plot. There was only one character who felt a little disappointing to me (no spoilers) and that was mostly because Myfanwy didn't get much chance to interact with her (since she was not a coworker), so the interactions we do see all play a fairly large role in progressing the plot. Given Myfanwy's alarming number of crises that arise at work, this is not surprising, but it is worth noting.

I felt like The Rook struck just the right chord with its mix of mystery, urban fantasy (or is it scifi?), and political intrigue. The story was complex and compelling, and the pacing (both of plot and of world building) was quite good. I was perpetually learning more about the world and Myfanwy's abilities while unraveling the source of corruption in the court, and the balance worked really well for me. 

I can tell already this is one of my favorite books of the year. If any of the above piques your interest, go read it right now. I even liked it enough that I forgive it for giving me extremely bizarre dreams about politically ambitious chess pieces. 

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