The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (read by Susan Duerden)
Hacette Audio, 2012
Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel The Rook is another one of those titles that goes down as something I wanted to really like but ended up disappointing me on some levels. It is also one of those audiobooks that whose narrator I wasn’t particularly fond of and who I have no doubt influenced my opinion of the novel on a whole. There are aspects of The Rook I definitely enjoyed and its premise is something I definitely found intriguing but as a novel I didn’t feel it came together quite as nicely as it aught to.
The Rook is a supernatural action thriller mystery adventure. If that sounds like an improbable mashup you are asbolutely correct but O’Malley does a valiant effort at making it all stick together. However, his tendancy to richochet back and forth between various themes, tones, and plots often leaves the novel a scattered and somewhat inconsistant feel. The novel centers around Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced, incorrectly, like Tiffany but with an M instead of a T) who wakes up in the rain surrounded by dead men in rubber gloves and no memory of who she is. A mysterious letter in her pocket, apparently written by her pre-amnesiac self, sets her on a journey fraught with mystery danger and the startling revelation of the Britain’s secret history. I don’t want to explain too much more than that, mainly because the slow unveiling of who Myfanwy is and just what the organisation she belongs to does is one of the best things about the novel. I will say that this super-secret government organisation is staffed my many people who have unique and often strange gifts.
My main issue with The Rook is O’Malley’s inability to settle on a specific tone. I was not overly fond of a rather heavy thread of humor that ran throughout the novel and there are definite moments where O’Malley seems to his tongue firmly in cheek. However, these moments are often confused by a rapid and sudden shift back to a completely straight face. There was one particular moment with an oracular duck, and really I should just stop there because that is ridiculous enough on its own, but that is made even more ridiculous by the events that transpire around said duck. I wouldn’t say such moments of levity happen often over the course of the novel but similar scenes crop up often enough so as to throw a hitch in the pacing.
Those moments of humor of distract from a novel from a world with some absolutely fascinating elements; many wondous and many horrific. There are some delightfully creepy thing spattered across the whole of The Rook thanks in part to the main villains of the novel. I was particularly impressed by a giant block of amalgamated people (a whole police precinct) turned into a telepathic and disgustingly fleshy meat monster. O’Malley even throws in a particularly messy and fairly original take on the vampire myth that almost forgives the inclusion of a horribly attractive and potentially dangerous vampire as a potential love interest. O’Malley handle on the scene involving the supernatural and the weird is absolutely top notch and I found myself consistently looking forward to each new strange tidbit he would introduce.
By and large The Rook is a very impressive debut that fans of urban and pananormal fantasy should definitely give a try. While I wasn’t overtly fond of Susan Duerden’s narration of the audiobook that is more personal preference than any actual fault of hers. Objectively Duerden is a capable and versatile narrator who has a keen sense for the novel’s humorous aspects and who is quite adept at keeping pace with novel’s changes in pace and tone. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the novel’s humor I can’t argue that it isn’t funny. While I would have liked to have seen straight approach to the novel there is definitely a charm to the novel’s humor that I think many readers might enjoy; indeed its humor definitely sets it apart from the rest of the urban/modern fantasy crowd. The trade paper release of The Rook should hit today and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the sequel when it comes around.