It's been quite a while since I did a book review. And, frankly, it's been a while since I finished a book, particularly one this large. There's so much going on, sitting down when I "should" be doing something else hasn't been a great idea. Life is chaos, but we do our best.
I love a good, weird story though. Say what I do about my memory, I will definitely talk to you about movies, books, and stories, probably within about fifteen thousand degrees of separation.
The Rook hit a spot for me that I had all but forgotten since I read Howl's Moving Castle and Good Omens. When I say weird, I don't mean for the sake of it. These books I've mentioned hold a special place for me because of how tightly they're woven together. I'll read anything for fun, but it takes something special to be fun and satisfy a certain kind of hungry I get.
The story follows Myfanwy ("Miffany") Thomas -- or rather, what's left of her -- through a delightful blend of modern science fiction and fantasy. She wakes up at night, in the rain, bodies of her attackers strewn around her -- and absolutely no memory of who she is or how she got there.
As it turns out, she's the Rook of the Checquy, meaning she's the main administrator for a secret branch of the UK government dealing with the supernatural and protecting people from it. Which sounds exciting, except that many people consider her a glorified secretary. That is, until the new version of herself also discovers they don't just protect people from supernatural, they use the supernatural, herself included.
Using letters and files her past self prepared for her, she takes a profoundly deeper initiative in her duties, and pries open the conspiracy that was involved in the attempt on her life that went wrong. There's the traditional and comfy monsters and supernatural in dragons, psychics, and super powers, but that's only peppered in with malicious fungus, Fringe-worthy and beyond shape-shifters, ancient Greek goddess, hive mind siblings, and the occasional nuclear grade-schooler.
But the best part?
Strong female main character without something to clatteringly prove to others, in character or by the author. Daniel O'Malley gets on with it, and it speaks for itself.
That's not to say The Rook doesn't prove anything important, or that I don't see anything intentional in the way it was written. That means, as I said, it's so artfully woven, there's nothing that looks into the camera to say "See?"
It illustrates the question I've been thinking about in a project of my own lately. Who are we when we're not beholden to others?
Myfanwy's back story shows her instruction from an early age and the expectations placed on her by others, but also herself. It feeds into her shy, hesitant nature. And then it all goes away.
As a reader, I see it as her breaking out and becoming more of herself, not that an old self died. The book is written from her perspective, with plenty of internal thoughts, and there's plenty of text dealing with the reactions of others when she doesn't act the way they expect. This has both positive and negative consequences.
She's the same person she's always been, but there's so much less "should," and so much more "will." That, along with an emphasis on other female characters, friendships, and perspectives -- still without breaking immersion to get its jabs in -- is why I wanted to be clear this story is a special thing.
And there's two more coming.
But yeah. You should go find this one first. Lock your door, check the Geiger counter, and sit down with your beverage of choice. Sometimes we need something outlandish to give us the proper perspective on real life.
Let me know how it goes.