Books : reviews

Daniel O'Malley.
The Rook.
Head of Zeus. 2012

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 23 January 2017

“Dear you, the body you are wearing used to be mine”

A woman awakens in a London park, dripping wet and surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves. In her pocket is a letter from her previous self: Rook Thomas, a superpowered operative in Britain’s most secret of secret agencies.

And then someone tries to kill her. Again.

Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a London park surrounded by bodies, with no memory of who she is, or how she got there. She needs to find out in a hurry, as unknown people are trying to kill her. She has three advantages: letters from her previous hyper-efficient self explaining the situation, a senior position in a sinister secret organisation, and superpowers no-one believes she can use.

It is difficult to categorise this, but I enjoyed this immensely. The puzzle of what is going on, explained in turns by the letters and Myfanwy’s own investigations, is interesting. The sarcastic tone of the protagonist as she encounters her colleagues’ attitude to her previous timid self, and the increasingly bizarre situations and revelations, make this in turns intriguing, a little scary, very funny, and occasionally a bit gross (in a good way).

The single off note for me is that this is written in the third person, but from the style I kept feeling it should be first person. But I assume the author knows best.

Just as I was finishing this, I was delighted to discover a sequel had just been published. Reader, I bought it. On the one hand, I don’t have to wait the five years that readers who discovered The Rook in 2012 have had to wait. On the other hand, can O’Malley keep up the clever and bizarre content? I do hope so.

Daniel O'Malley.
Head of Zeus. 2016

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 5 April 2017

The Checquy: A centuries-old covert organisation that protects Britain from supernatural threat.
The Grafters: A centuries-old supernatural threat.

After centuries of rivalry and bloodshed, two secret and otherworldly organisations – The Checquy and The Grafters – are on the verge of joining forces, and only one person has the supernatural skills – and the bureaucratic finesse – to get the job done: Myfanwy Thomas.

But as a wave of gruesome atrocities sweep London, ingrained paranoias flare, old hatreds ignite and negotiations grind to a halt. If is up to Myfanwy to find the culprits before they trigger a devastating, all-out, supernatural war between the reluctant allies.

Stiletto starts off where The Rook ends: Rook Myfanwy Thomas and the Checquy have declared a truce with Graaf van Suchtlen and the Grafters, and they have started the delicate process of working together. But not only are there centuries of well-stoked fear and suspicion on both sides impeding progress, there is a hidden faction actively out to sabotage the deal.

The bulk of the book alternates the viewpoint between Felicity Clements, a Chequay Pawn with aspirations to be a warrior Barghest, and Odette Leliefeld, a high ranking Grafter. After some typical Checquy-style horrors, Felicity is assigned as Odette’s bodyguard. Neither will be the same again.

I am slightly disappointed that this time round we don’t get Myfanwy’s viewpoint, except in a few scenes. And there is one scene from her point of view that doesn’t ring true for me. Myfanwy is at the Races investigating a gruesome murder, when she bumps into her brother Jonathan, and agrees to go up to his box to meet his friends later. After he leaves, she is attacked. The plot promptly proceeds to forget everything about this promised visit. Poor Jonathan, he must be worried sick!

Apart from this minor plot oversight (or maybe it is something incredibly subtle that will come back to haunt her later?) we get to see Myfanwy as others see her, in all her fearsome sarcastic efficiency. We are still in the wonderfully bizarre, dangerous, gross, complicated, surreal world of the Chequay, as two groups of people struggle to overcome perfectly understandable hatred and fear of each other, whilst surrounded by extraordinary and incomprehensible goings-on.

This is a great second book in the series. I hope it won’t be a four year wait for the third one! (There is going to be a third one, is there?)