The Rook: A Novel
Let's get this out of the way: Daniel O'Malley went to both Michigan State and The Ohio State, but, strangely, The Rook does not, as a friend suggested it might, burn me when I touch it. Rather, I found myself so enveloped by the fantastic world and tolerably executed- if not particularly groundbreaking- narrative that I was hooked even after I discovered the treachery. Sure, the book feels a bit derivative, dipping into waters tested and explored by the X-Men, among other influences, but O'Malley's book takes a fresh view of a humanity populated in part by those with special powers, not least through his use of amnesia as a driving plot device. While the particular mechanics of this amnesia may be a bit inconsistent- why, for example, does our narrator, Myfanwy, know how to operate in the world but not who she is or where she works?- they provide a handy mechanism by which the author can explain various facets of the secret organization that drives the plot, as well as its history and recent development. The device causes some interesting narrative diversions as these facts are revealed from the narrator's former self through a series of letters, and though it occasionally becomes merely tiresome plot exposition, the narrator's outsider feel makes the reader feel similarly comfortable and disoriented, to great effect. The effect may be occasionally clumsy, but one feels inclined to give O'Malley the credit he is due for seeking a unique and mostly effective solution. Nor can its effect on the reader's sympathies and experience of the book be ignored; Myfanwy's name may be nearly unpronounceable, but readers can sympathize with her disorientation, which acts as a kind of buffer while driving the plot forward. It also makes the character instantly admirable and gives the plot depth beyond its surface Britain-under-attack strains as Myfanwy negotiates a subtly done nature-versus-nurture subplot of self-(re?)discovery. The narrative device becomes an effective way to prompt and explore character development, lending a bit of depth to an otherwise standard surface setup and plot. These are well-executed, if unoriginal, and though there is the slightest hint of deus-ex-machina to the whole thing, The Rook is quite a fun ride, with just the right amount of depth to surpass standard sci-fi and fantasy.