The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. ★★★★
I first listened to an audiobook of The Rook back in high school, and I enjoyed it immensely, especially for its humor and the bonds between the female characters. In 2018, I had the desperate urge to listen to an audiobook, and I remembered that I could re-listen to The Rook. So I did, and I am happy to find that it has largely retained all the charm I remembered.
Myfanwy Thomas wakes with no memory of who she is, surrounded by unconscious bodies wearing latex gloves and a letter from her former self in her coat pocket. Her former self knew the memory loss was coming, and she gives the new Myfanwy a choice: run off to start a new life or take over her old life and try to figure out who was trying to kill her. Myfanwy was intending to run… until she realizes she has strange, supernatural powers and that she wants answers. She soon finds that her previous self was a high-level administrator in the secret British organization for supernatural affairs, the Checquy. And one of the other leaders of the Checquy betrayed her, but which?
There’s a lot I love about The Rook, but let’s start with how utterly imaginative it is. I adore the weird details of the Checquy’s history and supernatural Britain, from a duck that can predict the future to a war with bio-engineered monsters from Belgium. While the letters from Myfanwy’s former self (Thomas) may not always work well with the pacing or be directly related to the plot, they do expand the world building, often in really fun ways.
Most of the people who work for the Checquy have supernatural powers, and O’Malley goes beyond the standard powers like flying or invisibility to create a strange medley of both useful and next to useless supernatural abilities. Myfanwy can take control of other people’s bodies. Among the other leaders of the Checquy, one can enter dreams, another can emit various types of gas, and a third occupies four bodies instead of one.
Alongside the prodigious imagination is a sparkling sense of humor. Even rereading this book, I was laughing out loud at various points. The entire story of the prophetic duck was incredibly funny, and Myfanwy herself has some great lines.
Speaking of Myfanwy, I love her character development. Amnesia is a common plot device, but the character development and the differences between Thomas and Myfanwy are what makes it work so well here. Thomas was a shy and anxious administrator, unconfident and disregarded. Myfanwy is an entirely new person, and she’s much more assertive and take-charge. She is truly a new person, not just Thomas with lost memories. In that regard, it’s almost a coming of age story. Myfanwy is finding out who she is, what she can do, and what her place in the world is.
I also appreciate that Myfanwy isn’t the only female character in the entire book. Her most important bonds tend to be with other women, especially her secretary, Ingrid. Myfanwy isn’t painted as the only competent woman, and female friendships form a large part of The Rook‘s emotional core. I’d also like to note that there isn’t really any romance in The Rook, although the novel ends with the suggestion that Myfanwy may get a boyfriend.
I’m glad to find that The Rook held up so well six years down the line, and I’d still happily recommend it.