The Rook

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is a fantasy novel and a waking-from-amnesia story set in the present. Generally, I prefer historical fiction to fantasy. I think the fact that the time is present day works well for me.

The narrator has suddenly found herself in the body of Myfanwy Thomas. She just happens to be a high-ranking official of a secret group known as the Checquy (pronounced Sheck-Eh). She learns about her former life via a series of letters written by the original Myfanwy Thomas before her memory was wiped in a disastrous confrontation. Unfortunately for the narrator, she also learns that she is almost certainly still in grave danger and that this danger comes from within the Checquy.

I really enjoy the fact that the narrator is her own person. While she understands that her survival is dependent on presenting a credible Myfanwy Thomas, she refuses to be as timid or constrained as her predecessor. She also happens to have special powers, some of which are supernatural and some of which derive from the sheer force of her personality.

O’Malley took a risk in combining genres and in doing exposition via letter. I think it works in this book. It allows for the outside perspective of the narrator as constant commentary on how Myfanwy Thomas operates in a world which is mostly unaware of her misfortune.

Adding to the pressure, the Checquy are under attack by the Grafters. They are an ancient Belgian organization, who use their supernatural powers to attack and control others. Ordinarily, this would be a trite good-versus-evil plot, but don’t forget that someone within the Checquy wants Myfanwy Thomas dead.

“The Rook” is an incredibly fun read. The setup, as farfetched as it is, works well, and O’Malley keeps the story’s feet on the ground most of the time. It’s a delight to see the coming into her own of the narrator. I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is one of my all-time favorite fiction reads. I’m going to start with a mild spoiler about the structure, so if you hate spoilers: stop reading, grab a copy, and enjoy.

“Cloud Atlas” has a fun structure with six stories, each in a distinct style, five of which lead up to the sixth, and then they’re each concluded in reverse chronological order. I particularly enjoyed the science fiction story, set in a dystopian near-future in which human clones known as fabricants do the jobs hapless consumers won’t. It’s fast-paced, clever, and challenging to sort out the twists. The same is true of the detective story, involving a cub reporter and her story on safety problems with the local nuclear power plant.

I love how Mitchell weaves the stories together. One common thread is musical. The fictional Cloud Atlas Sextet figures in all of the stories. It also serves as the basis of the structure of the book. Sometimes there are echoes from one story in another. There’s even something common to all of the protagonists, but to reveal its exact nature would be too much of a spoiler.

I’ve devoured Mitchell’s other work since reading Cloud Atlas, and I’ve enjoyed all of it. This was the first of his work that I encountered, and so it has a special place in my heart.