Review: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

I picked up The Rook after reading Elizabeth Vail's review, here. I encourage you to check it out, because it was very convincing. Also, she explains the awesome plot in an entertaining way. 

I'm just going to quote from the product description, because I'm not in the mood for plot summary: 

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. 

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own. 

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined."

The Rook is a really fun book. Great concept, fast pace, lots of twists and turns. But what makes the book really satisfying is the relationship between Myfanwy and...herself.

There's the original Myfanwy, who had all of her memories erased. And then there's the new Myfanwy, made of all the same stuff, who turns out to be a very different person. In the novel, new Myfanwy adopts the habit of calling original Myfanwy by her last name, Thomas, which I'll do here. Really simplifies things.

So the biggest challenge for Myfanwy is to impersonate Thomas while growing into her own person. She has a huge advantage, because Thomas knew she would lose her memories and spent a long time preparing. That means the first view of Thomas we have is the one she wants us to have. Her own view of herself and the world, in her own words.

But Myfanwy learns about Thomas in other ways. She learns about Thomas by living Thomas' life--by discovering her own strengths and weaknesses, and taking note of where she and Thomas differ. 

And lastly, she learns about Thomas by observing how people treat her. Who fears her, who disrespects her. 

So the basic idea is not exactly groundbreaking. Some of Myfanwy Thomas' characteristics are innate, others are the product of her environment.

Thomas, for example, was ripped from her home as a child and sent to a school for people with supernatural gifts. She's young enough to suffer without parental love, which she doesn't get, but old enough to have a hard time fitting in at the school, where most of the students arrive as babies or toddlers. She develops into an anxious and shy woman, burdened by the expectations brought on by her extraordinary abilities. 

By contrast, Myfanwy is bold, courageous, and always ready to stand up for herself or take action. She's very comfortable with her supernatural abilities.

So this fresh start might seem like a blessing in disguise--Myfanwy is free to become the person that she was always meant to be!--but the more I read, the more I appreciated Thomas. 

Thomas played a support role in her supernatural superspy organization. She facilitated and organized and arranged, and needs all those skills to keep Myfanwy alive. Nothing that Myfanwy accomplishes would be possible without Thomas. 

Myfanwy is an obvious badass. Thomas is a secret badass, and she proves it over and over again through the book. Thomas is cautious, patient, thoughtful, observant...and she gets the job done. 

We know that, in order to survive, Myfanwy has to prove herself worthy. She inherits a high rank in a competitive organization and she's got a lot of catching up to do. Her supernatural advantages are balanced out by crippling ignorance, and it's a near thing for her.

But while all this is going on, Thomas is on a parallel journey. Thomas, who almost never used her gifts, who had no field capabilities, who many thought of as a failure and a dud, has the opportunity--through Myfanwy--to show us that she was always good enough. 

So Myfanwy's success is Thomas' redemption. It's a really wonderful emotional core to a story that is otherwise a rollicking good time.