Monday, September 3, 2012

The Rook

I first heard of The Rook by Daniel O'Malley in Alex Adam's Terribleminds interview, where she named Myfawny Thomas as a strong female lead. After that I thought about it for a while, I kept hearing good things about it around the interwebs,  it stayed at the top of my TBR pile, and I finally picked it up at the library. Truth be told, I almost returned it without reading it. I picked it up on a whim and read the first five pages. AND THEN I WAS FREAKING HOOKED. And by the way, Myfawny Thomas? Totally badass.

I don't know much about Daniel O'Malley, but you can follow him at his blog (which he doesn't seem to update too often) and his twitter. (The best parts of his twitter are the little info-bits in his replies to other people, which unfortunately are not featured in your general feed.) His bookpage has a hilarious book trailer that will make a lot more sense if you've read a chapter or four, which *also* happens to live on his bookpage! (Lucky you!) It's out in hardcover now, but the paperback is out (in the US) October 16. And if it means anything to you, Lev and Austin Grossman, Charlaine Harris, Chuck Wendig, Jaye Wells, and Katherine Neville have all sung it's praises. And I completely agree with them.

A synopsis, from BN:
       Myfanwy Thomas awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, her only hope of survival is to trust the instructions left in her pocket by her former self. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization and this person wants her dead.
       As Myfanwy battles to save herself, she encounters a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and an unimaginably vast conspiracy. Suspenseful and hilarious, THE ROOK is an outrageously inventive debut for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.

At first, I was turned off by the language. This is not a poetic book by any means, and the books I've been reading lately have all been of the well-written, snot-nosed sort. And I'm sorry to say that it put me off for a minute, and I am ashamed. Because this book turned out to be SO AWESOME. As in I'm pretty tempted to crack it open at the beginning and start all over again. It kept me so engrossed I read it last weekend in the hotel room during our ANNIVERSARY trip, people. I'm not entirely sure what that says about me. (We also watched a Shipping Wars marathon while eating take-out Thai food. In New York City. I don't know what that says about us. But hey, ten years, we must be doing something right.) But don't let the simple prose turn you off to this book, because honestly by about page seven I was completely pulled into the story.

Jaye Wells summed it up best when she said this book is "wildly inventive and startling hilarious. Part Bourne Identity, part X-Men, and with a hefty dose of Monty Python, this genre-bender is a refreshing addition to contemporary fantasy." Katherine Neville added Harry Potter, Ghostbusters, and War of the Worlds. Honestly, they all fit. This book is just a heap of fun with lots of action.

The main character, Myfawny Thomas, left letters and notes for herself (her new self) to keep her functioning in her job. Because if the traitor found out that she had lost her memories and outed her, she wouldn't be able to figure out who it is and fix the organisation. Because things are happening that need fixing, and Myfawny has to keep up. It's really interesting to see how the other people reacted to Myfawny not acting exactly like she normally does, that is, meek. This new Myfawny is snarky and doesn't put up with any bullshit, and people are taken aback by her. But I really loved all the characters who reacted well to this, and hated the characters to were taken aback. I'm pretty sure O'Malley planned every bit of that.

And that part where I said Myfawny is badass? Yeah. That. She's like a mix between Rogue and Sentry and Katara, and her ability to think outside the box with her new body and mind takes her all kinds of places that the old Myfawny would never have been able to handle. I'd say that I'd love to be the Rook, but I'd be dead in an hour.

And the people, the weirdness! Every character had an interesting power, not to mention a unique personality. There was Gestalt, the person with four bodies controlled by one mind, who could kick ass and send the bodies to opposite ends of the earth doing independent tasks without breaking a sweat. There was the quietly powerful Alrich who seemed to be made completely of potential energy and did things like walking on snow all Legolas-style, and I'll admit I was a tad disappointed when I finally figured out what he was (blame popular media), but he was still awesome. Myfawny had a history with each character, and it was great to see her interacting differently with each person because of their histories, what she had read from old-Myfawny's letters, and the little she knew of them since her awakening.

A fair warning, this book has a ton of info-dumps. Now, I am not opposed to info-dumps if they can keep me interested. Mira Grant's Newsflesh Trilogy has a shit-ton of completely undisguised info-dumps that are fascinating, so I had no problem with them. The dumps in The Rook are disguised as the letters from old-Myfawny and take up a significant portion of the book, and other than my annoyance at reading pages and pages of italic text, they were just as interesting as Grant's. We find out the background of the other characters, and more about the Checquy (the supernatural CIA Myfawny works for). They serve as short stories within the main narrative. Sometimes they disrupt the pacing, but I always liked them. I may have gotten bored once or twice, but it was always short-lived. Mainly they set the scene for whatever is happening currently, and it makes it funnier or more dreadful, depending on the situation. They were great, rounded out the characters nicely, and the book wouldn't have been the same without them. Actually, it would have been pretty empty without them. There are enough action scenes throughout the book that make the info-dumps a nice breather for the reader, and they all you to process all the weird that is going on.

A small gripe: the denouement. Granted, this is a pet peeve of mine, so perhaps other readers won't have a problem with this. But after the huge climax at the end, I want that book to wrap up in five pages or less. This book had several chapters of Myfawny getting back to headquarters and tying up loose ends and diplomatic negotiations when I've already been waiting for her to collapse from exhaustion for several hours. These things need to be cleverly tied up during the climax, and it's not necessary to touch base with every significant character while setting up for the next book.

But the best part about all this? There's going to be a sequel! While I'm not entirely sure what direction he is going to go in, I am really super freaking excited. I am so reading that book. And buying this book, so I can read it again. Daniel O'Malley, you have one lifetime reader right here.

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