Review: The Rook (The Checquy Files #1) by Daniel O’Malley

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: February 1 to 20, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: fellow urban fantasy fans
Recommended for: people who like conspiracies and black ops with a UF flair

This was a fun read with a few minor snags. It could have been more fun if there weren’t so many letters, but the overall story was good. And good urban fantasies are hard to come by these days. We must always cherish the ones with great potential, yes? Even if their execution is uneven, clumsy, and/or awkward at times, because a majority of UF out there are complete and utter bores (and the rest are terrible PNRs) and I say that as a fan of the genre–much of it is crap. You’re more likely to pick up a crap UF than you are to choose a good one. The Rook is one of the better ones, and despite all those letters, I liked it and I look forward to the sequel.

The set-up:

Myfanwy* Thomas wakes up on rainy afternoon to find herself cold and wet and standing in the middle of a park where multiple unconscious bodies lay around her. She has no memory of her previous life or know who she is now, but she finds in her jacket pocket two handwritten letters addressed to “You.” The letters briefly explain her predicament, that her life is in danger, someone has betrayed her, and more assassins are on the way. They also briefly touch on her supernatural power, the ability to access and control other people’s central nervous systems. Now she has two choices. One is to stay, fight, and unmask the person(s) who harmed her; the second option is to disappear and live a life on the run. The former Myfanwy Thomas knew a day would come when she’d lose her memory and had aptly prepared the way for present-day Myfanwy Thomas to take her place. The safer and more intriguing of the two options is to stay. So she chooses to stay and begins to infiltrate Myfanwy Thomas’ life.

The former Myfanwy Thomas was a high-ranking official in a secret organization called the Checquy which deals with all things supernatural in all of Great Britain. Like Dr. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but on a grander scale, better funded, and has official government backing. The Checquy deals with the supernatural by covering it up or just by killing it, which is often the only way to deal with the supernatural, and they have free reign to pluck “talented” children from their families to raise them in a facility called the Estate where they’re turned into skilled operatives. Overseeing this organization is a group of super(powered?) talented people called the Court. The former Myfanwy Thomas held the position of Rook in this Court, and before she lost her memory, she had uncovered a number of things that would lead to her betrayal and, right before she lost her memory, she knew the one who would betray her was in the Court.

Present-day Myfanwy Thomas picks up where the former left off. The two personalities have very little in common except for a head for administration and investigation. Where the former was shy and quiet, the present day personality is assertive, determined, and has no qualms about using her Court position or superpower to her advantage. This new personality is a surprise to many Court members, and it throws the ones behind her betrayal off their game. As she begins to unravel their plans, she finds that her betrayal was only a small part of a larger conspiracy to bring down the Court, and that this is only the beginning.

Things I like:

Both former and present-day Myfanwy Thomases are compelling characters with fully fleshed-out lives and personalities, and for two characters who never meet face to face, they play off each other well. As much as I find the italicized letters a nuisance, I like how the former personality is presented in them–lonely, painfully shy–and I found myself sympathetic to her struggles, especially her willingness to push through her fears to protect her future self while preparing for her inevitable death, so to speak. Even though the two personalities are foils of each other, there’s enough in common between them to make you believe they were/are the same person.

Both POVs are interesting and the narrating voice(s) is convincing and believable. Myfanwy Thomas is a believable female character, which might seem odd to highlight, but since the book is written by a male author, credit should be given where it’s due. Not many male authors write from a female POV, and of those who try, only a handful achieve a believable narrative style. Before I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure Daniel O’Malley could do it. Glad to see that I had been wrong to doubt.

Another thing I like is the humor, often dry and always tongue-in-cheek. A few scenes had me laughing out loud. Here are some of my favorite moments:

“Unbelievable!” His secretary came in. “Fetch somebody from technical support or that woman who claims she can negotiate with computers and have this fixed.” He turned his attention back to the computer, and then looked up again. “What?”
“You’re balancing on one hand again, sir,” the secretary replied. “And you’re getting footmarks on the ceiling. The cleaning staff has been complaining.”
“Oh. Fine.” Gubbins flipped himself up the right way, and his secretary rolled her eyes.
“In any case, sir, the Court meeting has been moved up. It’s now today right after sunset—emergency.”
“Okay,” Gubbins sighed, and he took one leg off the ground. Then he lifted himself up onto one toe. “Piece-of-shit computer!”

[…]

The Lord and Lady titles are gender specific, which makes it awkward when a vacancy appears and the most qualified person has the wrong kind of genitals. As a result, during the 1920s, the organization was inflicted with the uncomfortable tenure of Lady Richard Constable, a large bearded man who once bit the head off a possessed Irish wolfhound. He succeeded Lady Claire Goldsworthy and out of sheer bloody-mindedness declined to change his title. Even when the then-Lord died, Constable refused to switch positions.

[…]

“Well,” said Grantchester, “whom do we inform?”
“The Palace,” said Farrier.
“The Prime Minister,” said Wattleman.
“The Minister of Defense,” said Eckhart.
“The chiefs of the intelligence agencies?” suggested Gubbins.
“Oh God, must we?” asked Grantchester tiredly. “They’re always so obnoxious if we turn up something they don’t know about, and anything even vaguely unusual makes them nervous. Can you imagine what they’d do if they saw this tape? It’s so embarrassing when spies start crying.”

[…]

“I just received notification that the Americans are coming!”
“All of them?” asked Myfanwy.
“You know, it’s not wise to be sarcastic with your executive assistant,” remarked Ingrid tightly.

[…]

She’d found a battery-powered item in the drawer of the bedside table but was somewhat wary of using it. Admittedly, it is mine. And it’s only ever been used on my body. But not by me. This is an aspect of amnesia that people don’t normally talk about.

Things that bother me:

I don’t buy the Checquy as a secret organization with lots of government backing because secrets cost too much to maintain. Something of the Checquy’s caliber would not stay in the dark all these centuries; it doesn’t make sense. It takes a considerable amount of energy and resources to keep a lid on the organization’s various nefarious dealings. Plus maintaining its secret status is unnecessary, time-consuming work. It’d be more convenient for The Checquy, paperwork- and PR-wise, to become legit and exist as another branch of government. If something like the Checquy did exist way back in the Medieval Ages, it would have been made official in modern times under the guise of a mundane title and description that no one, other than conspiracy theorists and the tax department, cares about. This, at least, would make the organization more believable. Nothing’s more boring or mundane than being recognized as a legit organization under the law…

While I thought the beginning started off great, the rest of the book dragged and the thing that made it so was the author’ choice of letter placement. What I mean by that is, whenever a major discovery is revealed or whenever a scene reaches climax, Daniel O’Malley would insert an italicized letter by the former Myfanwy Thomas that goes on to explain some aspect of her life or the Court or her suspicions. All are important info of course, but the letters cut right into action-packed scenes and you don’t find out what happens next until the chapter following the letter. I find that extremely annoying because there are other places, better places, in the book where Mr. O’Malley could have inserted those letters; it didn’t have to be right in the middle of an intense scene. If it weren’t for the SF/F elements, I might have abandoned this book by the 5th italicized letter.

Another issue I take with this book is the characterization of the nemeses. They’re a bit comically muhahahaha for my taste. The concept is great and I’d love to find out more about these evil Belgians, but their portrayals are too comical for me to take seriously. They don’t live up to the effect their powers supposedly have on other people or their plans to take over the Court (and the world??). Some of the dialogue during the confrontation scenes between Myfanwy and the evil doers are too verbose and written in a manner that paints them as tantrum-throwing adolescents. They aren’t quite cartoonish or caricatures of comic supervillains, but they do lean toward being trope-ish (muhahahaha) and predictable in their rage and rampage. Plus, it’s hard to take villains seriously when their rants aren’t so much threatening as they are info-dump-ish. While I find their evil deeds disgusting (literally), I don’t find them formidable or frightening. Simply put, they’re not worthy opponents. Perhaps the next book will have better adversaries.

* possible (correct?) pronunciations: 

  • MY-FAWN-WAY
  • MIV-FAWN-WEE
  • MY-FAWN-WEE
  • MIV-FAWN-WAY

* * * * *

Still pretty damn funny, but this time around, I find myself much more drawn to the characters, main and secondary alike, and I have a greater appreciation for the writing in general. But specifically, the amount of planning that must’ve gone into creating the mystery and plot. [The amnesia, the contingency plans, the diplomatic shuffle, the men-in-black/x-files/x-men bureaucracy, the whole thing. There was a lot buried here that didn’t make sense before, but everything makes a lot more sense now, now that I know how the story ends. And I’m in awe of it all (hide spoiler)].

All those letters don’t bother me anymore.

* * * * *

Rereading to prepare for Stiletto and going with the audiobook again this time because these days setting aside time to read is a luxury I no longer have.

* * * * *

3½ stars, rounded up for the sense of humor and that extra helping of zaniness.

There were moments in the story that felt like they dragged on for a few pages too long (the letters), but I’m having difficulty recalling them. What I remember most about this book though are these quotes that made me laugh out loud.

“Checquy statistics indicate that 15 percent of all men in hats are concealing horns.”

“Now, do you mind telling me why you have all these guns lying around? Are you afraid the paperwork will rise up against you?”
“Oh, no. I’m going to use the guns as paperweights.”

“I’ve always been a pretty good researcher,” said Bronwyn modestly.
Oh, so that we share, thought Myfanwy, but you didn’t inherit the power to make people shit themselves. You’ve got to love the randomness of genetics.

“This duck tells me nothing!”

*

* *

* * *

* * * *  HUGE SPOILER * * * *

The moment the former Myfanwy Thomas found those financial discrepancies which led her to investigate the Caius school/facility, I knew the financier/accountant was behind it all. Because it’s always the accountant.

Kidding.

It’s usually the accountant, but not always.

Inside joke.

…heh…

mad face

And another thing. I sense a romance blooming in Myfanwy’s near future. If it’s with that ancient body-fluid-dripping Grafter, then we have another problem.

mad face

On a more serious note, this book made me imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have my memories. Who would you be without yours? What would you do? Start over somewhere new or continue your former life? What if you don’t know you’d lost your memory? Now there’s a scary thought. What if you don’t know who you are and your former self didn’t leave a contingency plan?

mad face

I’ve been making this face a lot lately.

My memory is great, though not perfect or eidetic (photographic), but it’s been incredibly reliable all my life and it’s uncommon for me to forget things, anything really. Once in a while some minor thing might slip but I always recall it within the hour. So the set-up presented in this book is scary. I can’t imagine living without my own memories.

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11 thoughts on “Review: The Rook (The Checquy Files #1) by Daniel O’Malley

  1. thebookgator February 20, 2015 / 9:47 am

    Excellent review. Agree, there is so little quality UF out there, we have to cherish what is mostly decent. 🙂
    I happened to go the other direction with the letters, a device that normally annoys me. Memory is a tricky thing–I feel like mine has always been remarkably bad, so I sympathize with Myfanwy.

    Like

    • 1stavenue February 20, 2015 / 11:46 am

      It’s a cross we UF fans have to bear. There’s just so much redundant crap out there lol. Does this lower our standards, I wonder? It’s certainly lowered mine to “if it’s not TOO offensive, I suppose I can learn to like it.”

      Myfanwy is a great character, both of them are. Many times when I was reading I’d forgotten the book was written by a man. For some people this isn’t a big deal, but for me it was the selling point.

      Like

  2. Steph February 20, 2015 / 12:49 pm

    Great review! I loved this book but it most certainly is not perfect. It can be so absurd that when it sticks to the detailed minutia of a spyu novel it was sometimes hard to reconcile the two. I listened to it first and loved Susan Duerden’s narration so much I just went with it. This is a very fair review though.

    Like

    • 1stavenue February 20, 2015 / 2:23 pm

      Thanks, Steph. Now that you mention it, that spy-novel element adds an interesting note to the tone and setting. I did enjoy the read. This book is a good mix of genres, and Daniel O’Malley is a good writer. Looking forward to see what he gonna do with the next book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Steph February 20, 2015 / 3:49 pm

        I periodicaly stalk his website to see when the next book is coming…no news yet.

        Like

        • 1stavenue February 20, 2015 / 4:59 pm

          According to GR, it’s set for the end of June. *crossing fingers*

          Like

          • Steph February 20, 2015 / 5:05 pm

            We shall see…I will think good thoughts and cross my fingers too:)

            Like

    • 1stavenue February 20, 2015 / 2:30 pm

      Also, I really love your 50 Shades post and your reader’s response to the book and all the uproar surrounding it. I tried leaving comments on your page yesterday but WordPress wouldn’t publish any of them and still won’t. It might be a glitch; I’ve already notified support.

      Like

      • Steph February 20, 2015 / 4:02 pm

        What???!!I missed out on your comments in the 50 Shades post!!!! I’m sad. WordPress must apologize

        Like

        • 1stavenue February 20, 2015 / 4:56 pm

          I’m sad too. 😦 But I’ll give it another try. Persistence is key lol.

          Support said they’ll look into it, but today being Friday, that probably means they’ll get to it some time next week.

          Liked by 1 person

          • 1stavenue February 23, 2015 / 1:36 pm

            No such luck. While I can still “like” your posts, I’m still not able to comment on them. I’ll head over to GR and leave comments there. 😦

            Like

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