Thursday, April 5, 2012


Daniel O'Malley's debut novel, The Rook, took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting to like it that much, considering that I'm not really into the fantasy-action-supernatural genre. This was an impulse purchase. Normally, I Google the books that I've been meaning to buy, checking out what other people say about them. However, The Rook floored me. I was extremely entertained by it.

O'Malley, in the opening chapter of the novel, presents us his heroine, one Myfanwy Thomas. (The w is silent and the f hard, rhyming with Tiffany.) Myfanwy awakes with no recollection of her own self and with dead bodies in latex gloves lying around her. The opening statement is enough to arrest you:
Dear You,

The body you are wearing used to be mine. [page 1]
It turns out that Myfanwy's former self was anticipating this memory loss and has decided to write letters to her new self to explain what she is and what she does for a living. Through these letters she discovers that her official title is Rook Thomas and that she's part of an ultra-secret organization called the Checquy Group, which is made up of retainers, pawns, and the Court. The Checquy apprently handles troublesome supernatural cases. She also learns that she has powers to control the people around her, and that her touch can be fatal if she wills it. Nevertheless, the new Mywanwy is peeved to find out that, despite these powers, her old self was a meek persona who was more comfortable dealing the Court's administrative functions instead of doing 'field work'.

The concept of the Court is particularly intriguing, as it is rooted in the game of chess. We have pawns who do the dirty work under the supervision of the Court. The Court itself is made of 8 individuals with supernatural abilities: 2 rooks, 2 chevaliers, 2 bishops, 1 lady, and 1 lord. Reading each of the characters that make up the Court is a delight. Rook Thomas's counterpart, Gestalt, is 1 individual that commands 4 bodies. One bishop is a vampire. And the Court's very regal lady can enter your dreams.

As I was reading The Rook, I realized that it reminded me of many pop cultural references. The varied abilities of the Court alludes to the X-Men. The school were students are trained call to mind Professor Xavier's School or, at the very least, Harry Potter's Hogwarts. The cases that Rook Thomas gets involved in, with the many instances of slime and ectoplasm appearances, is like The Ghostbusters. Add to that the bureaucracy and the efficiency of the organization, and you also get James Bond or Mission Impossible. The apparent 'spoofiness' of the novel never goes overboard. It's a fun read, I tell you.

So back to Rook Thomas. It appears that the Court has been infiltrated and that the former Rook Thomas has unearthed it. It is this mystery, this unravelling of the conspiracy if you will, that propels the story. It's a wonder to read the various letters that the old Mywanwy wrote for her new self, which are interspersed into the main storyline. O'Malley's novel is also very funny. If you like wry British humor, you'll be hooked with The Rook.

I was initially turned off by the book's length. (The hardback is close to 500 pages!) But The Rook's taxi-meter pace works to the reader's advantage. It's hard to put down a novel when each chapter has an action scene involving a flesh-eating blob, a hatching of a dragon gone wrong, a house overran by a religious cult which is in turn overran by ectoplasm, among other things. Oh, the wonders never cease.

A caveat: The Rook might just be the first in a trilogy or a series. While the main story does come to a close, it isn't as clean and complete as some people would have it. It seems O'Malley has set the stage for the next novel. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it would be as enjoyable as his first.

Read this book if:
  1. You know that there just might really be an organization that protects us from supernatural creatures.
  2. You can suspend your disbelief for extremely outrageous stuff.
  3. You like chess.


Michael Silva said...

wow! This got me interested. Is this book available in our local bookstores? THanks!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Michael! Yes, it is. I bought my copy from National.

Jack said...

Sounds great, dude, I'm in!

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! It is!