Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley




People recommend books to me a lot. It's hard to know when or how to fit them all in! And then there's the worry I won't like a book that is very dear to a dear friend's heart. For a long time, I just avoided reading books that had been recommended to me, unless someone pushed a physical copy into my hot little hands. (This is still the fastest way to get a book to the top of my list.) So I started a new list to read of books friends recommended. If you want to get in on this, you can recommend a book on this post.

This book was recommended to me by LibraryHungry

I am not easily squicked. It comes from growing up with an emergency room nurse as a mother, and therefore having a different line than most people between "normal dinner table conversation" and "why the fuck would you say that while I'm eating?" There aren't many books that push those buttons for me, largely because I am not a visual thinker, and so descriptions of what gross things look like I can shrug off. (It's a bit different if we add in sound or smell.)

I bring this up because I was about two-thirds through this book before I started to tell my husband "you know what? This is really gross." Not too gross, because most of it was visual in nature, but definitely approaching the limits of what I can read while I'm eating.  (Stiff was probably the only book that was too much to read while I ate. I read while I eat a lot, so this is an important consideration.)

However, despite the grossness of the threats in this book, it's mostly quite rollicking fun. We have here a British secret service made up of people with supernatural powers (including a vampire). In fact, the British government has long more or less conscripted everyone with strange powers and pressed them into some kind of service within the Checquy.

Myfanwy Thomas (who, to my perpetual discombobulation, pronounces it "Miff-un-ee" like it rhymes with Tiffany) is one of the eight people who run the Checquy, as a Rook, which means that she's essentially one of two running all internal matters. As the book starts, she has no idea who she is, but whoever she was before whatever happened happened at least knew that this utter loss of identity was coming, and has tried to leave her enough notes to keep her alive and maybe figure out who wanted her mind erased.

It's a spy novel, essentially, with lots of crazy powers running around (Myfanwy can control other people's bodies, although her former self had a serious mental block about doing so, something that does not carry over to the new Myfanwy.)

We get a lot of history of how the Checquy came into place, and a slow burn through what the conspiracy is and what the former Myfanwy had discovered before her identity went poof. There are also strange houses with chanting and purple light from which no one comes back, a dragon hatching, and the threat of the Belgians. Well, the Grafters, who are Belgian fleshmancers. Or flesh scientists? Whichever, they can do some truly creepy shit with the body, and have been enemies of the Checquy for centuries, at least until they were destroyed in a battle a couple of hundreds years ago.

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that the next part of that sentence is "Or were they?"

It will also likely not be surprising that the threats are both from without and within. 

My only real problem (and it's a small one) is that we get all these documents from the former Myfanwy to the present Myfanwy, and somehow it takes her weeks to actually sit down and read them all. If it were me, I'd be reading while I ate. I'd be reading in the car while being driven to work. I'd be reading on the fucking toilet - if all you have between your new self and possible death or more brain death, the reading of this stuff would not done when I got around to it.

Other than that, this is a fun spy story with superpowers, shading slightly on the gross side, but not terribly so. I would certainly be interested to hear what happens next, and I'm told the next book will be forthcoming soon.

Book Notes: While I was writing this review, there was a lively discussion on my facebook about other books with issues of identity and the complexities thereof. Here are some other books that people contributed as suggestions:

Unpossible by Daryl Gregory (the first story, I think)
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Isniguro
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
books by Virginia Woolf or Philip K. Dick
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

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