MEC reviews The Rook – Daniel O’Malley

This is probably the fourth time I’ve read this book and I still love it. After watching four episodes of the mini-series that is supposed to based on it (they kept character names but dropped almost all the things that made the book so much fun and intriguing), I had to read the book again to figure out if I mis-remembered how much I enjoyed the story. Book – still adore. Mini-series – does not compare in the slightest.

The book starts off with the most amazing premise – the main character comes awake in the middle of a rainstorm, surrounded by a bunch of bodies and with absolutely no clue who she is or how she got there.  The hook is immediate and lasts throughout the novel – you, as the reader, are learning as Myfanwy Thomas is and the story becomes more and more absurd, but is told in such a a wonderfully matter of fact manner that you just gobble it up and grin as things get more and more peculiar and fantastic. The story is all in the delivery – and the deadpan humour is marvelous.

There are more than a few laugh out loud moments as O’Malley weaves a fantastical story that includes intrigue, mystery and a fair bit of action.  Someone has targetted Myfwanwy – and failed, at least in part.  Who it might be and why is a central mystery as well some great action as a number of “incidents” start to point to a larger threat to the Checquy (and Britian).

The book raises and interesting idea – without all the baggage and regrets that you develop over 30 odd years, what kind of person would you be? In the new Myfanwy, you see the elements of the old – but she is a better version.  All the insecurities and self doubt that held her back don’t exist for the new version and she embraces the full potential of her abilities, skills and position. The new Myfanwy is what she should have been, could have been and ultimately what she wants to be.   She’s the most bad-ass administrator you will ever come across.  And in retrospect, her previous self was pretty bad-ass as well as she continued to dig into things and set things into motion knowing full well that she would cease to exist in a very short time.

Exposition and world building is primarily handled through a series of letters that the “old” Myfanwy   leaves for the “new” Myfanwy as she tries to adopt the old Myfanwy life.  The exposition is deftly done – initially, the letters are meant to orient the new Myfanwy, but it soon becomes apparent how isolated and alone her old self is and they are more a conversation with herself – imparting important information and providing  a wonderful way to introduce and flesh out the world and characters that the new Myfanwy is meeting.    It’s actually fascinating to see the development of both Myfanwys. Through the letters, there’s an amazing amount of empathy and sympathy for the original Myfanwy. At first she seems a rather boring unassuming mouse of a person – both in her own mind as well as how she’s perceived by those around her. Within the letters though, you learn more about her and her inner strength and resolve as well as the levels to which she is willing to go to for her “new” self shines through. On the flip side, the new Myfanwy is a person in her own right – and her ability to adapt and stand up for herself makes this book shine.

The story-line that all this happens is completely bonkers and sounds utterly ridiculous – but the way that it unfolds works phenomenally well.  It’s just so absurd that you just say what the hell, suspend your disbelief and smile your way through it all  –  it all makes perfect sense in a mad world where a secret organization of individuals who possess powers and abilities that protect the unknowing population of Britain and the US from a host of oddities (carnivorous mollusks for example). At first you’d think … okay, it’s like the X-men. Nope … the powers are just wonky, as are the threats ( the big bad in this is an  Scientific Brotherhood of Scientists – a crazy bunch of Belgians who slosh around in regeneration tanks and take body modification to whole new level) and it’s just so much damn fun.

So … after the fourth reading, I love this book even more than I did the first time I read it.

Strongly Recommended



  1. I tend to describe it as X-Files meets X-Men. And it is a fantastic and funny book. The show on Starz is a massive disappointment for me.

    Great review!

  2. Agreed. I’ll keep watching the miniseries because I’m a glutton for punishment (and there’s nothing else on Sunday nights at 8pm). I’m also going to queue up the second book for a re-read in a couple of weeks – I remember it was different and didn’t have Myfanwy as a main character which, when I read it, made me sad because I ADORE Myfanwy.

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