Id’s #CBR5, #2 – The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

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This review is of the audiobook version.

How good is this book? I got lost driving while listening. During the second reading, which was right after the first. Before I knew it, I was 40 miles lost, somewhere between Dubuque and Davenport. That’s how good this book is.

What would happen if you’re a senior administrative bureaucrat in the British Civil Service and you lost your memory? Not amnesia, that battered dramatic trope, but lost like a Department of Defense overwritten reformatted hard disk. And then, what if it was the Paranormal Civil Service? And you had super-powers? And you knew it was going to happen? And what if you were as meek and mild as a pet rabbit? Does it go all Watership Down? And let’s throw in a pack of biological engineering terrors, just for fun.

Daniel O’Malley has done a wonderful thing – he’s merged 20th Century British boarding-school-for-spies with paranormal horror, what passes for civil service drama, and used it only as wrapper for a thought experiment on what shapes who we are and what would happen if our selves were given a second chance. And he did it while Alan Moore’s grand opus on the same topics in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was still publishing, and he made it his own at the same time.

The Rook is also an accessible book – my wife adored this book after only 5 minutes. She also remarked that she found O’Malley’s main character one of the most absolutely ‘real’ women she’s read, and still can’t believe the book was authored by a man.

One of the best parts of audio reading is you are occasionally gifted with a brilliant actress to interpret the book. Susan Duerden has taken a thoroughly great story and made it into a work of art – you hear the first person narrator, Myfawny Thomas, change in the book and it sounds entirely authentic throughout. Ms. Duerden’s cast of voices is all entirely distinct as well, running the gamut of British Commonwealth voices from aristocratic boors (of both sexes), Indians, Americans, and even sputtering mad Belgians. (don’t ask) Duerden has done an artistic job that is equivalent to Alex Ross.

The first four chapters are available at The Rook Files.

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