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I'm glad I didn't realize that The Rook was classified as YA on some lists when I downloaded it or I would probably not have given it a listen since I've been rather disappointed with my sampling of previous YA genre books. I'm not sure what makes a book YA, but this one to my relief did not suffer from the problems I have seen in my previous YA "dips". No sign of the simplistic, unrealistic YA characters - the Rook has well developed characters that a reader can identify with or at least understand (i.e. motivations track with their back stories and behavior is consistent). No teenagers taking charge of the world - all the central characters are full grown adults; some quite ancient so you get NO teenage angst or the overdone "coming of age" sexual rabbit trails in this tale. And finally, thankfully, no insipid romantic convolutions to veer the plot off track, undermine the female protagonist, or bore the adult reader.
There is some good world building in this hidden fantasy world set "beneath" our real modern day world - the politics of this fantasy world are laid out well and remain consistent although the constant introduction of new abilities throughout the book gets a little tired after a while. In spite of a lot of action, the plot line is pretty basic and the mystery of Myfanwy's attack/amnesia isn't that mysterious. However, I will not be overly critical of the plotting because I thought the development of the two Myfanwy characters was beautifully done. The amnesia angle might be a bit cliche, but it was handled so perfectly that I will forgive the cliche. Myfanwy doesn't just develop amnesia from a bump on the head - she has all of her personal memories deleted from her so that the woman who wakes up after the attack only resembles the pre-attack Myfanwy at a cellular level. All that nurture and experience did to influence what nature started with in Myfanwy is gone. We learn of pre-attack Myfanwy from her letters to her future "sister" as we watch post-attack Myfanwy develop her own new persona. I loved the way O'Malley made the two characters unique and yet related. Ex: Old Myfanwy by way of her life experiences is quite shy (nurture); new Myfanwy isn't shy, but is still fairly introverted (nature). After all, you are who you are by way of nature and nurture, lose the nurture and you couldn't be you. But nature sets the initial boundaries so any version of you would have to have some commonality with any other version. By the end of the book, both the reader and the new Myfanwy come to understand and appreciate the old Myfanwy and it feels like you've been part of a story with two individual female protagonists. I came to like both of them very much. All of the characterizations in The Rook were interesting and quite well done.
Reviewing the performance is harder. I had some trepidation about the book after reading some of the negative reviews about the narration. You can hear what the reviewers were complaining about from the sample, but you might not be prepared for how incredibly irritating this strange voice mannerism is over 18 hours of listening to it - OUCH! The sad part is that Susan Duerden's reading makes it difficult to tell how good/bad O'Malley's writing is. She reads as if the author wrote the whole book in sentence fragments and rarely utilized any periods. She breaks up every sentence into phrases and leaves each phrase hanging out there - her voice never drops at the natural end of a sentence or a thought as a normal speaker would. I found this to be a major distraction that broke the flow of O'Malley's writing. But, Duerden isn't universally bad which makes the review hard. Her voice is nicely modulated and with a pleasant British accent she is a pleasure to listen to other than the weird phrasing thing. In addition, she does great character voices for men, women, children, and monsters and the dialog parts of the book are really fun with her presentation. (She did a better American accent than almost any British narrator I've listened to.) Parts of her narration I would give a 5 star and parts a 1 star. I finally settled on 2 stars because she so badly impacted the author's writing for me and that's a big No-No in my book.
This is a great little fantasy tale with wonderful characters. No hesitation recommending the book, but check the audio sample before you download and just make sure you are prepared for Susan Duerden's reading the whole thing as a series of sentence fragments before you take on the audio version.
43 of 44 people found this review helpful
This was unexpectedly excellent. There are so many elements that you would think would seem trite for the genre - the main character has amnesia, the setting involves modern supernatural forces, lots of funny banter, etc. - but it all comes together expertly in a way that seems very fresh. In The Rook, he amnesia concept has an interesting twist, the modern supernatural elements are unique (not many vampires or werewolves), and the humor is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. And, as for the set-up, think Harry Dresden (but less dark and conflicted) or the Charlie Stross's Laundry series (but less satirical), and you'll get the general idea - the world is full of scary forces, and our heroine, along with a government agency, has to kill, out-maneuver, or out-think them.
The plot zips along, the writing is just excellent, and the characters are fun and compelling. This is not a particularly deep book, but it is a really well done supernatural-political-workplace drama that I can't wait to see more of. The details of the plot don't need spoiling, but I highly recommend this, especially to Dresden or Laundry fans.
The only caveat is that the reader takes a few hours to get used to, though she improves as she goes. The early part of the book seems to be read in short phrases, with odd spacings and a questioning rising note in the middle of many sentences. The accents are pleasant, though, and by half-way through you won't notice any issues, and, in any case, it doesn't undermine the book.
100 of 105 people found this review helpful