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Leafing through the first pages of The Rook it’s astonishing how many reviews describe it as a “mix of _______ and ______”. Downton Abby and Harry Potter, The Office and Doctor Who, Ghostbusters and Niel Gaiman: it’s a positive bouillabaisse of all things Nerdily British or Britishly Nerdy. And though I wanted to avoid that trap, as I read one thought popped up in my mind again and again: “It’s as if the X-Men ran a government agency entirely devoted to X-Files.”
That mash-up covers the central conceit of the book, but misses the core of Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel (in part because he’s actually Australian and not British [though the book is set there] or American [though he did attend school here]). The core of The Rook is about finding out who you are by coping with the absurdity of adulthood. And, not coincidentally, he gives us a main character who has lost her memory just before we cracked the cover. As our heroine gradually learns her own name (Myfawny Alice Thomas), her job (administering a squad of supernatural troubleshooters within the British isles) and her own special gifts (manipulating other people’s biological process to her will), we learn them too. And when foreign cadre of supernatural Belgians threaten to bring down her office from within, we as readers bounce along on the trail of clues, looking for answers and thrilling at the intrigue of “Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service”.
As a writer O’Malley’s wit crackles along the page, littering the plots’ surreal situations with knowing winks and quirky one-liners. Even if you normally eschew sci-fi silliness, or espionage-laden intrigue, if you appreciate clearly written, clever characters, you’ll find something to admire in The Rook. The mash-up of all our nerdy pet-passions creates both a wonderfully unique hybrid and a delicious stew with a little something to satisfy everyone.