The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is by far one of the best books I have read this year. I do not say that lightly. The intricate plot full of conspiracies, murder, and science fiction absolutely blew my mind. I put it on par with the emotional artistry of The Night Circus and the great world building of Ready Player One which were my top two books of last year. Like my other top book of this year, Bitterblue, The Rook crosses genres and breathes life into an unusual character, even for the Urban Fantasy arena, and creates a world that is full of rich details and a complicated history. It was simply, an amazing story.
Myfanwy Thomas comes to herself standing in the pouring rain with two blacks eyes and no knowledge of who she is or why she is standing there. In her pocket are two letters. The first letter tells her how to pronounce her own name, rhymes with Tiffany, and gives her a choice. Follow the clues in the old Myfanwy’s letters back to the beginning like Leonard Shelby in Momento or leave behind the crazy notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos living a quiet existence with a lot of money on a remote island based on a locker and combination number, or she can open the second letter. Myfanwy tears apart the second envelope and is thrown into a whirl wind of government espionage, supernatural abilities, and paperwork.
Myfanwy learns that she is part of a secret group of government agents that use their supernatural powers to keep people from knowing about the paranormal subset of the human world. Her position of Rook has many advantages, money, an awesome assistant, and more paperwork. The old Myfanwy was a wiz at administration, she was able to dig through papers and read numbers and manage things behind the scenes. In fact, she was so powerful at being an administrator that there is someone in her organization who is out to kill her body and the new Myfanwy must figure out who this is while learning to use her powers, avoid detection that she took over someone’s body, under the the ever watchful eye of her overly competent assistant.
The juxtaposition between the new Myfanwy and the old as seen through the continuous influx of letters is such a brilliant contrast. The new Myfanwy never felt the lost of being abandoned when she was a child and without that fear to hold her back she is assertive and commanding. Who would I be tomorrow if I woke up without any history, without any fears, without any knowledge of what I could or couldn’t do? How would that free the construct of myself? O’Malley’s story explores the concept of how our history plays into who we believe we are and how we react to situations. It was though provoking and exciting.
While the main plot line of secret government agents and mutants wasn’t anything new, the story telling and world building definitely were. O’Malley’s prose was delightful and insightful. His humor was sly and hard to catch if I wasn’t paying attention. I also was quite amazed that this story about a woman was written by a man. Several times I was thought, ‘Oh that is totally what I would have thought or done in the situation’ and double checked the front cover to see that yes the story was written by a man. I’m not sure what kind of research O’Malley has done but he nailed down how this woman thinks and reacts. I was also so in love with the power of the administrator that O’Malley pointed out very subtly throughout the book. I enjoyed that the heroine had a well paying job and her life had complications and disasters aplenty that added poverty wasn’t need to make it a more interesting.
This paranormal thriller will have you rapidly turning pages, though I caution about reading ahead, it’s just confusing. I do this far too often with books, I know, and I try to stop myself, but sometimes I can’t. Here it only served to confuse and frustrate me to no end, and I finally realized I just needed to read the book cover to cover. Maybe this was partly because the book takes a while to get into the action of the story, but it will be worth the wait I promise. I really hope this book is made into a movie, it would be glorious. I was pleased at how the ending came together in an epic way that ties together all the threads and leaves you feeling like you are made brilliant for having read such a wonderful book.