The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (book review).

A woman opens her eyes and is faced with a ring of bodies and no idea of who she is. Luckily, the previous inhabitant of her body left good instructions to allow Myfanwy Thomas to get on with life. It isn’t necessarily her life but it looks better than the alternative of a life on the run. So Myfanwy turns up to work as normal. In this case, ‘normal’ means dealing with all the supernatural occurrences in the British Isles, working as an operative for one of the most secretive and powerful organisations in existence, the Checquy. But what happened to the previous occupant of her body? One of the Checquy tried to kill her and unless Myfanwy can find out who and why, there is a very real danger that soon the second Myfanwy Thomas will also fade out of existence.

‘The Rook’ by Daniel O’Malley might be described as an urban fantasy as it is set in modern day Britain where the supernatural exists right under our noses. Yet ‘The Rook’ is unlike any urban fantasy novel I’ve encountered, with a unique method of storytelling making it feel like a brand new genre.


As the reader, a lot of the information about the characters and the world we’re introduced to is delivered through these letters rather than through gradual character development. At first, I was worried that this would be a) patronising, laying out every detail step by step and b) simply a way of disguising a writing style that couldn’t bring atmosphere into a story without the aid of a gimmick. However, it actually worked very well and the content of these letters with their dry sense of humour went a long way to making the book as engaging as it was.

The plot is quite unbelievable. If you’re reading this book then realism probably isn’t high on your agenda and if it is then I think you went wrong somewhere. The absurdity of it all is one of the reasons why it was an entertaining read. ‘The Rook’ never seemed to take itself too seriously and I enjoyed the obvious errors made by the new Myfanwy, they kept the tone nice and light.

The fantasy elements, the Checquy and their enemies, the Grafters, were understated and I think that was a good choice by O’Malley. The most bizarre and horrifying events are dealt with in a matter of fact way with a good sense of fun throughout and it was clear that these were just the kinds of things that the Checquy dealt with every day. It is in many ways remarkable that a giant fungus controlling the minds of dozens of people and taking over an entire house in Bath can be made to seem like an everyday occurrence!

One thing that I thought wasn’t clear was where the new Myfanwy personality had come from. Is she the same person just without most of her memories or is it a totally new person who has taken over the empty body? The personality seems too fully formed to be the blank slate that might be left when all the memories were removed and she is quite disdainful of the old Myfanwy in many ways. It doesn’t really matter, it’s just something I found myself pondering as I read ‘The Rook’.

I really enjoyed ‘The Rook’ and am very curious to see where O’Malley goes in the follow-up to this book, which is, according to the author’s website, in the draft stages at the moment. This will presumably no longer have the extensive series of letters to rely on and I look forward to seeing how that changes the style of the book. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the release date!

Vinca Russell

March 2013

(pub: Head Of Zeus. 482 page small hardback. Price: £16.99. ISBN: 978-1-90880-037-4)

check out websites: www.headofzeus.com and www.rookfiles.com


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.