Series: The Checquy Files, #1
Published: 2012 by Back Bay Books
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
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The Rook by Daniel O’Malley begins as a woman awakens with amnesia. She is standing in the middle of a ring of dead people wearing rubber gloves, and is extremely confused. Then she finds a note in her pocket that begins to explain what’s going on.
The letter is from Myfanwy Thomas, the original occupant of the body that the protagonist finds herself in. Myfanwy-from-the-past explains through a series of letters that she was part of a secret paranormal government agency–think Men in Black meets X-Men. Old Myfanwy knew that someone was going to try to kill her, and that someone new would wake up in her body, and so she prepared for the inevitable. She offers new Myfanwy a choice–to escape from her pursuers and create a new identity, or to become Myfanwy and take her place in the Checquy. Myfanwy chooses the latter.
Her new life is not an easy one, and she’s got a lot to learn in order to pass as Myfanwy. Agents in the Checquy are trained from an early age in order to harness their psychic powers. Myfanwy has to learn who the key players in the Checquy are, and at the same time, figure out who tried to kill her in the first place. That mystery appears to be tied to a plot to destroy the Checquy from within, as part of a typical scheme for world domination.
The Rook makes readers think about what it is that makes us who we are. Is it our genetics, our training, our experiences, or some permutation of all of those factors? I really loved seeing the difference between old and new Myfanwy. Old Myfanwy is your stereotypical shy, mousy nerd type. She’s a talented administrator, but doesn’t do blood, action, or interpersonal relationships. She’s afraid to use her powers, but has risen through the ranks in the Checquy because of her knack for numbers and for getting the organization’s accounting in order. The new Myfanwy, on the other hand, is a lot more forward. She still retains old Myfanwy’s administrative skill, but she doesn’t take nonsense from anybody, and when she finds herself in dangerous situations, she kicks ass. While the two characters are extremely similar, there’s no doubt that they’re entirely different people.
One of the things I really liked about The Rook is that unlike most fantasy/adventure novels with female protagonists, there isn’t a romance aspect to the novel. And Myfanwy is such a well-rounded character that she feels complete without one. Even though she throws herself into her job, Myfanwy makes time to develop and maintain lasting friendships, and it’s those friendships that help her adapt to her new world the challenges it brings.
I also enjoyed the descriptions of everyone who worked in the Checquy. There are so many strange individuals–Lady Farrier, who can teleport into people’s dreams and speak with them, Bishop Alrich, the mysterious vampire, Gestalt, one mind who occupied multiple bodies, and more.
O’Malley creates a vivid world where every day brings a new crisis to face, all while preserving the illusion that the paranormal are a figment of ordinary people’s imagination. I found The Rook unputdownable. And while it appears to be the first in a series, the ending is satisfying enough that it can stand alone. I definitely recommend this one.