THE ROOK by Daniel O’Malley

A pretty nifty fantasy genre book.  Urban fantasy genre.  Urban thriller fantasy genre. Our genres are now begetting their own niche genres.  I guess Urban Fantasy is more modern, no swords and sorcery and sandals.  OK, I had to look it up, such is the lacuna in my knowledge base.  “Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, actual or imagined.”

This is set in ummmm an unnamed city in England, modern times. I think it is London.  I know it is modern times because everybody has cell phones, although faxes still seem to be a viable option.  Well, it was written in 2012, so that would make sense.

Want to know what it is about?

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

The secret organization hierarchy is based on chess:  Since in England it would be bad form to have a King and Queen, the top two are Lord and Lady, then the Bishops, Then Chevaliers (the knights), Rooks, and Pawns.  Everybody with those nifty strange supernatural powers are one of those ranks.  Anybody working for the Court who is not powered is called a Retainer, and as might be expected, not everyone loves this demeaning appellation.

As with so many long fantasy novels, (this one clocks in at almost 500 pages), it was great for the first three-quarters of the book, and the last quarter or so became somewhat tedious and over the top.  Yeah, I know.  If it is fantasy with fantastical creatures populating it, how can it actually be over the top? Isn’t ‘fantastical creatures’ and’over the top’ a contradiction in terms?   But because we are careening at breakneck speed toward the final denouement,  it becomes less interesting and more action oriented and less, shall we say, cerebral.

Since I am not generally a fantasy reader, I do not seek them out, but somehow happened upon this one, and was happy I did.  I liked it, especially the mystery aspect of it.  Action scenes with severed body parts, gore and body fluids do not entrance me, but that’s why the Universe invented chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and even chile ice cream.  Something for everyone.

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