Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: The Rook

The Rook: A Novel by Daniel O'Malley

Audiobook narrated by Susan Duerden


For the record, if it is necessary to label your book "A Novel", perhaps someone thinks you didn't do a good enough job in making it obviously a novel.  Pet Peeve and it just makes me feel like publishers think I'm stupid.

Onward.  The Rook is built along my favorite lines -- a bit science fictiony, a bit superhero-y, a touch of paranormal, and a whole lot of "whodunnit".  It's a good book to start the summer.

Now, the reader.  Susan Duerden does a respectable job with voicing the characters.  My big problem -- something that actually irritated me and made me pause the book more than once -- was her "neutral" narrator voice.  The book is written as a combination of 3rd person limited and 1st person epistolary.  She gave the main characters (yes, plural, for reasons I'll explain) a good, reasonable voice that worked.  But the neutral voice...gah!  Every sentence ended on an uplift, a vocal inflection that is not uncommon with women because it lets each sentence, no matter how obviously declarative, sound like a question.  Each line has an echo of "Is this all right with you?"  It's not the full questioning uplift, just a hint of one, but so frequent that it became noticeable. Now, this is the expositive part of the book, which is quite certainly declarative in nature.  The narrator/author is not asking the reader questions.  However, that slight uplift, that ending of each sentence on a place higher up the scale by a note, a note and a half, so repetitively, got supremely irritating.  It may not bother anyone else, but it bothered the hell out of me.  It was also unnecessary, since she did quite well voicing characters, including male characters, with distinct voices, inflections, and vocal mannerisms.

Then we have the story.  I got hints of Jasper Fforde in this, not just from the British setting, but from the very evenhanded, unexcited way very bizarre parts of the world were just..accepted.  I enjoyed that in the Thursday Next books, and I enjoyed it here.  We start the book with Myfanwy Thomas, or at least a woman who used to be Myfanwy Thomas and who choses to be her again.  The question presented to us is a nice twist on the classic dead body in chapter one -- who "erased" Thomas's personality and memory, and why?  Thomas knew it was going to happen and has prepared with meticulous detail a series of letters and a binder of information, among other things, for the person she would be if she survived whatever it was that would happen.

And from there, we are off.  The comedy is sharp and cynical and, at certain moments, a bit overdone, but not so much that it threw me off the story.  Myfanwy is interesting, not only as the detective AND the victim in this sort-of murder mystery, but as someone trying to take up someone else's life without that someone's particular problems and coping mechanisms.  Thomas (the old personality) had some serious damage.  Myfanwy (the new personality) doesn't have the memories of those traumas, and so isn't hedged around with defenses.  It's a marvelous sort of "What If?" story.

The frosting on this layered story cake is also quite delicious, as we discover (yet another) secret agency charged with saving humanity from the dark, alien, and mysterious parts of the world that would seriously upset the normal, reality TV show watching citizen.  There are deadly enemies, weird dangers, and problems with finding something suitable to wear for various important agency events.  I was surprised that Myfanwy, who is not in the usual heroic "strong female character" mold, didn't really need anyone to save her, but was just fine when someone did.  She will stand up for herself when she feels like it, but she doesn't always feel up to it.  That worked for me.

Short version -- worth the reading.

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