Title: The Rook.
Series: The Checquy Files #1.
Writer(s): Daniel O’Malley.
Publisher: Back Bay Books.
Release Date: October 16th 2012 (first published January 11th 2012).
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy & Mystery.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
To shake things up a little bit, I’ve attempted a buddy-read with a fellow blogger for the first time in my life and it is with none other than the wonderfully-creative Dani @ Perspective of a Writer! Sneakily approaching me to take on this challenge, I’ve embarked on an unpredictable—which by the way turned out to be quite fun—adventure to buddy-read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley just in time for its live-action TV series adaptation (see at the end of the post for the tantalizing teaser trailer)!
The format of this buddy-read is pretty simple and is something that she acquired from our trusted friend Evelina @ Avalinah’s Books where we simply send each other 7 questions to answer on each of our blogs prior to a discussion upon finishing the book at our respective reading speed.
Click on the logo below to check out Dani’s answers to my questions over on her blog!
What is The Rook about? The story begins with Myfanwy Thomas waking up amidst bodies wearing latex gloves with no recollection of who she is. In possession of a single letter guiding her around Britain, she learns about the existence of a secret organization known as the Checquy that keeps supernatural threats from having their way and of our own powers that have helped her reach her position of rook within this clandestine government organization. Filled with individuals who have singular abilities, Myfanwy Thomas has to learn her place within this organization and identify the high-ranking mole who erased her body’s original owner’s memories while keeping her amnesia a secret from everyone.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: When we talked you pointed out the cover to me right off. It’s the crest of the Checquy organization, simple and very red. You said it’s a “cool and effective cover for me.” I was quite interested in that because the cover turned me off as reading too spy thriller. What were your expectations for this as a spy thriller? How did those pan out for you?
I have a huge appreciation for anything that is minimalist. The crest with the giant, plain and white title gave me the impression that I was going to dive into something serious, something that meant business. The idea alone of an organization with an underlying chess analogy immediately rose the bar pretty high in regards to this spy thriller since chess is my all-time favourite board game.
I was expecting a complex and clever plot that revolved around superpowered individuals and creatures, as well as something that would toy around with chess plays and strategic thinking. Something told me that The Rook would be different from the usual “there’s-a-mole-in-our-organization” spy thriller.
What I got wasn’t exactly that but something quite different that worked just as well and I’m happy that it took that direction! The story focused a lot on the world, the organization and the humour. In fact, without the latter, the whole thing would’ve collapsed.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: At the heart of The Rook are letters between the new Myfanwy Thomas and the original one. We stay firmly in the present but get all the wisdom and background knowledge of the organization through this epistolary format. Did you enjoy the way the back history was distilled to us? Did it give the story a sense of rising tension as our knowledge started to equal what the original Myfanwy knew?
I have to admit that a bit too much of the exposition was done through the letters and felt a tad bit too heavy at first and slowly lost its appeal at times throughout the story. I sometimes even found myself wondering about the intent and purpose of some of those letters. Although they were timely and cut into the narrative at the perfect moment, they were sometimes too perfect and became a narrative tool rather than something integral to the story.
What I liked most about the decision to distill the back story through letters was how it gave us a good idea of the original Myfanwy Thomas’ personality and helped us further understand the history behind the organization. I didn’t, however, feel like it gave a rising tension as the story progressed as it often seemed to serve as a pause from real-time events.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: The existence of a traitor in the story is made really obvious to the reader almost from page one. It’s in the back of our minds the entire time we read the letters and get acclimatized to the life Myfanwy Thomas lived and how the new Myfanwy is different. You shared with me that when you read mystery stories, it’s more the “how” we find out who it is rather than “who” it is that matters to you… So how did Daniel O’Malley do? Did you enjoy the mystery? The reveal? Why or why not?
I rarely ever try to guess who it is although plenty of mystery readers find that that is half the fun of the genre. In The Rook, I was curious to see how Daniel O’Malley would reveal the main villain and I was quite happy of the end result.
His control of the narrative is quite splendid but what impressed me the most is how it isn’t really the main attraction throughout the story. While discovering the mole might be a priority to Myfanwy Thomas, her integration and development throughout The Rook seemed to take the forefront more often than not, and I loved that.
The reveal wasn’t mediocre, however, but didn’t impress me in any way particular since I was much more invested in how the showdown would go down. Considering that this isn’t just a spy thriller but an urban fantasy, the reveal had much more wiggle room to do more out of it too after all. It wouldn’t just be an arrest, but an actual event with a mandatory James-Bond-villain-monologue to give the reader all the details on the “why”.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: I totally fell for our rooks right from the start. Rook Gestalt had such a fascinating power that was clearly of benefit to the Checquy. Myfanwy on the other hand held her spot for totally different reasons and not for her ability at all. Were the Rooks equals to you? What did you think about the use of powers by the Checquy organization? Was the hierarchy believable? Who was your favorite?
I think the whole idea of having two of each (bishops, rooks and chevaliers) was quite cool. It offered the organization a hierarchy that doesn’t exactly work like a monarchy but actually has multiple individuals with “equal” powers coordinating together. Although anyone who is power hungry could cause a lot of issue within such a system, I think it remains something original in the context of a secret organization with supernatural beings.
The rooks were indeed interesting in their respective way. Rook Gestalt mind hive powers were scary, however. It took me a moment to imagine myself in their shoes. But then when you understand what Rook Myfanwy Thomas is capable of doing, you can totally see why they’re on the same rank. After all, Myfanwy Thomas doesn’t usually do field work as much as she could. With the things she could do, she’d be a huge threat to just about anyone in the organization.
My favourite character remains the mysterious Bishop Alrich. When you get to his origin story and find out what he is, you can’t help but be seduced by his eeriness. Personally, I could totally devour a spin-off featuring this dude.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: The new Myfanwy Thomas made some hefty changes to the old Myfanwy’s life. Friendship and family are at the core of these changes. What do you think about how these effected her? Was the transition between the two versions natural and believable?
From the beginning of the story, I had a feeling that Daniel O’Malley would look into developing his protagonist in that angle. After all, the main character is living in a body that didn’t belong to her and has to carry around all the baggage that the original Myfanwy Thomas passed onto her.
I personally loved how friendship and family were at the heart of her transformation and characterization, and how romance was actually pretty much absent! When those elements started to have a significant impact on her daily activities and her adaptation phase into her new body, I was truly immersed in the struggle and enjoyed how she dealt with them.
After all, the new Myfanwy Thomas could’ve either completely assimilated the old Myfanwy Thomas’ personality or stayed true to herself. All the decisions that came with her new identity were just so intriguing to see unveiled.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: The world building in The Rook was truly complicated and mixed spies, supernatural creatures, special abilities… Did you think the world was successfully crafted? Why or why not? What technique brought it all together for you? What was your favorite element of the world?
I definitely enjoyed the universe created by Daniel O’Malley. It reminded me a lot of the X-Men mixed with the Men in Black within a British setting. The fact that he was able to also make the supernatural elements exist within the real world so seamlessly was truly impressive.
I think what really made it all work was the witty humour. And rest assured, the whole book was filled with it from start to finish. I grinned so often at the protagonist’s sense of humour and the banter that existed within this world, that my face hurt! I think it’s what essentially allowed me to accept the universe that the author was developing and to feel right at home with everyone’s perception of the world.
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer: I loved your last question so I’m totally stealing it… because I’m dying to know your answer too!! “With only one more book in this series to go (Stiletto) and a TV series in development, what do you hope to see in any future stories in The Checquy Files?” And I’m curious… if you got to cast the rooks (Myfanwy and Gestalt) who would be your dream choices?
I think what I really want to see from Stiletto and any other stories, if they were ever to be created, is adventures in international waters. I think it would be really cool to see how Myfanwy Thomas and the Checquy organization function when they are forced to work outside of their territory.
I would also love for the author or TV series creators to further exploit the supernatural elements to give us fun, creative and deadly action sequences with the cast. I think that’s just my superhero-love speaking though!
Casting-wise… I’d cast Diane Kruger as Myfanwy Thomas. That’s mainly cause she’s one my all-time favourite actress and would probably nail the role as a spy. As for Gestalt, it’s a bit complicated considering what “it” is. For the sake of keeping it a surprise, I’d simply cast Michael Fassbender in the role of the twins! This would, however, need a pretty big budget.
Daniel O’Malley accomplishes a brilliant concoction by blending spy thriller with urban fantasy as he brings to life a secret organization à la Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense in Hellboy or à la Men in Black.
Relying heavily on witty humour, the story holds you by the hand as you rediscover the intricacies and ramifications of this organization and the protagonist’s role within it simultaneously as the newly-occupying individual in Myfanwy Thomas.
Although incredibly heavy on exposition through an epistolary format, that is letters left by the original Myfanwy Thomas for the new occupant, The Rook remains incredibly fun as it serves the reader as a hectic and impressive entry point within this secret world where she plays a key role.
The various characters introduced in this story are also intriguing in many ways beyond their powers but most of the fun lies in the protagonist’s development as she adapts within her new body and this mad world.
The Rook is an amusing and fresh story that draws upon the best tropes of spy thrillers and urban fantasy to deliver its cleverly hilarious adventure.
Coming out this summer 2019, The Rook will be adapted into a TV series by STARZ! How excited are you to trying it out!