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The Rook

March 24, 2014

One of you wrote good things about Daniel O’Malley’s crime thriller The Rook (subtitle: On Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service), and it was so long ago I don’t remember who it was. This kind of thing is almost enough to make me think I should mend my non-methodical reading ways. But not quite; it’s fun to fall into a book that I half-remember reading about and discover all its joys for myself.

One of its joys is the fast pace. It has one of the most arresting openings ever: “Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.” But the process of recovering the protagonist’s memories happens quickly and seamlessly; she doesn’t waste a lot of time sleeping or eating during her adventures, and even her re-introduction to her family is brief, curtailed by the more exciting stuff that’s going on in her life.

It makes me think about something I recently said to an imaginary friend who let me stay the night–I think meeting imaginary friends in the flesh can sometimes be disappointing, because usually you get their goodness compressed, and in person you see the quantities of down time necessary to sustain whatever goodness you enjoy in them. Reading The Rook is getting the goodness compressed while remaining aware that there are more details behind the story. And it’s a good story—turns out that the protagonist, Myfanwy (who says her name rhymes with “Tiffany”) is a kind of supernatural cop, working for an organization called the Checquy. She has abilities, and she uses them against even weirder creatures—in particular, a group of augmented shapeshifters called “the Grafters” who have been doing things like “breeding horses the size of Humvees” for a couple of centuries.

Letters from the “you” who had her memories removed provide the backstory, so it’s a good thing she writes entertainingly:
“Unnatural occurrences aren’t limited to graveyards, morgues, and funky cult headquarters. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of them happen in those sorts of places, but many more turn up in entirely mundane situations, which actually makes them far more upsetting. People are more likely to cope with the appearance of an animated corpse in a graveyard than one in an ice cream parlor or the changing room of a boutique. They won’t be happy with the appearance of the animated corpse in the graveyard, but they tend to be less outraged.”

The tamest of the secrets Myfanwy discovers living in the body that comes with a supernatural job, several apartments and cars, and closets full of clothes that don’t fit the new person’s taste, is that she has a pet named Wolfgang: “there was a flicker of movement through a doorway, and Myfanwy found herself staring at a rabbit with extremely long droopy ears. “Oh, I have a bunny!” Myfanwy knelt down and reached out a hand. Wolfgang continued to look at her but submitted to a tentative stroking and accepted a carrot. “How are you, Wolfgang?” Receiving no answer, she settled her mind that he was not a supernatural rabbit….”

One of the letters left for Myfanwy reveals that she works with a man who, “in the mornings…sat between a little girl made of steam and a set of siblings named Gestalt and learned about the secrets of the world he lived in” and in the afternoon, learned to use his ability to manipulate metal. Another of her co-workers, from America, looks “as marvelous as might be expected, considering she had access to all the boutiques of Rodeo Drive and the kind of figure that, according to some of the Checquy histories, people actually had sold their souls to possess.” Myfanwy knows a little bit about her own abilities, but the goodness of the plot is compressed to reveal what she can do only at the most exciting moment possible.

There are adventures rescuing people from sinister herbiage and cubes of flesh, and there’s an accurate prophecy from an ill-fated oracular duck. The villain gets a satisfyingly long monologue and is then vanquished forever by Myfanwy, who has been consistently underestimated by her co-workers, up until that point. It’s a fast ride with a fine destination, and while I don’t wish it had been any longer, I’m excited to find that there is room for a sequel (and that the author is writing one).

Do you have a favorite fast-paced book? An imaginary friend who you know is probably slower with the quips in real life?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2014 7:55 am

    I recommended it! Yay, you liked it! And I too am very glad there will be a sequel.

    • March 25, 2014 10:52 am

      Thanks! I got a copy as a Christmas present and just now got around to reading it.

  2. March 24, 2014 10:48 pm

    Hahahahaha, I didn’t know that was the book’s subtitle. I read a few pages of it in a bookstore and wasn’t immediately thrilled with it, but okay, you are making me want to add it back on to my TBR list.

    >>>I think meeting imaginary friends in the flesh can sometimes be disappointing, because usually you get their goodness compressed, and in person you see the quantities of down time necessary to sustain whatever goodness you enjoy in them.

    Uh-oh. This may bode ill for me and Mumsy in June. I think we are collectively fairly quippy in person, though, so maybe it will be okay. If not there is always the dog! She is very entertaining in her own right!

    • March 25, 2014 10:57 am

      I meant that meeting me can be disappointing, because I pretty much turn into a pumpkin after 11 pm ET, and when we went to CA to visit ReadersGuide, I wasn’t entertaining in the evenings.
      We will head for LA in June with good intentions of being as extroverted for as long as we can possibly be! Nobody has to work (not true in CA) so that will help.

      • March 25, 2014 12:32 pm

        See and I was afraid you meant I was disappointing in person 😀 (although I also turn into a pumpkin but even earlier than you do).

  3. Jenny permalink
    March 25, 2014 12:08 am

    I like it that my imaginary friends are slower in person, because so am I. What I like about people is the peopleness of people, so it’s usually pretty good meeting them unless they’ve been hiding something really unpleasant.

    Favorite fast-paced book, right off the top of my head, with no rummaging: Have Space Suit, Will Travel.

    • March 25, 2014 11:38 am

      It’s true that both sides are slower in person, and that is a revelation and–so far in my experience–a pleasure.
      Have Space Suit, Will Travel is definitely fast-paced! I think most of the Heinlein juveniles are.

  4. March 25, 2014 12:18 pm

    Oh how fun this sounds. I am a more methodical reader; I have a spreadsheet TBR, which is the sort of thing I used to think was … not lame, but too *organized*, too boring, too hedged-in. Sometimes I wish I still read all over the place like I used to, but then I forget the title of a book I really, really wanted to read and didn’t write down, and generally feel that the trade-off is worth it. I still shelf-graze every once in a while and try not to let my TBR prevent that.

    • March 26, 2014 3:30 pm

      Yes, I agree that I hate it when I forget a title I meant to write down. (Or, just as bad, lose the little piece of paper I wrote it on before I get to the library.)

  5. March 25, 2014 12:52 pm

    Oh this sounds like a fun ride!

  6. March 26, 2014 6:50 pm

    That sounds absolutely brilliant, I’ve had to bookmark your review for later bookshop browsing.


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