[Book Review] A dark and stormy night, plus amnesia

RookBook Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

“Dear you,

The body you are wearing used to be mine.”

Myfanwy Thomas opens her eyes to find herself standing in the pouring rain, in a London park, surrounded by bodies, with absolutely no memory of who she is, and a letter in the pocket of her coat addressed to her.

This book had me hooked from that first line.

The mystery is tantalizing – I couldn’t get enough of it. Who’s after Myfanwy? Aliens? Evil scientists? Paranormal? Government conspiracy? The story unspooled its revelations one by one, teasing and keeping the tension taught. Myfanwy starts out as a brilliant combo of practical, cool-headed, and completely lost as she tries to a) stay alive and b) navigate the deadly life of her past self.

There’s plenty to love. There’s the amnesia plot, there’s the mystery, there are cool supporting cast of characters. You could compare this book to the Bourne series, but I was also reminded of Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber.

Unfortunately – and here’s where mileage will vary – about a third into the book, the story took a sharp turn into more fluffy territory of making best friends, going out clubbing and wearing fancy dresses. The adventure and action and mystery continued, sure, but alongside a shift into more predictable waters.

If the idea of your super agent main character worrying about what to wear for a fancy dinner or deciding to take a break from kicking ass to go out on the town doesn’t make you want to gnash your teeth in frustration, then you’re good. You’re more than good. If you’re more like me, though, troubled waters ahead.

[Spoilers ahead: beware!]

First, a little more of the good. There is a gentleness that I didn’t expect between these two – the way that confident and blustery Myfanwy thinks about the painfully shy and isolated Thomas shone, and I appreciated the way Thomas did her best to set Myfawny up for survival in the cutthroat world of the British fantasy version of the Men in Black. Then there’s excellent tension as Myfawny struggles to roll with the punches and pass as Thomas as she works through the letters and through her first day at work.

Problems start when Myfawny discovers she has a brilliant instinct for administrative work that makes up for her complete lack of memory or knowledge. She’s effortlessly excellent at work, she’s becoming besties with the US Checquy Bishop, and when she’s not mouthing off and provoking the baddies into killing and pillaging innocents, she’s keeping secrets about deathly threats to national (and international) security from the very people who could (should, would) deal with the threats.

And even when she learns that Thomas, in her last moments, had discovered who was behind the attack before fleeing down a secret passageway, Myfawny’s takeaway isn’t to try to retrace Thomas’ sleuthing steps via Thomas’ letters. No, it’s to use that secret passageway to go hang out with her newly found sister in a club. Yet as the reader, we’ve known for several chapters now that Thomas’ letters contain vital clues.

By the final third of the novel, Myfawny’s decisions become increasingly juvenile. I ended up longing for Thomas – shy, broken Thomas who, when faced with the prospect of her own impending death, nevertheless went after the mystery with a dogged, bright desperation. Who overcame her many phobias of field action to infiltrate the second estate, forced herself to use her hated powers after a brutal attack, and, in general, was the smart, gutsy, flawed heroine that Myfawny failed to be.

While there are plenty of scenes with Myfawny that are meant to be amusing and cute, the book had set itself up as urban fantasy suspense thriller mystery. When it hopped the tracks to kickass heroine paranormal fantasy, I lost patience. It’s not so much that the book isn’t good as much that it didn’t live up to its promise to be so much more.

Canary Verdict: 

I’d absolutely try something else by this author…but not the sequel.

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