Monday, May 7, 2012

Move me onto any black square


Myfanwy Thomas opens her eyes to find herself surrounded by corpses, with no idea who she is or how she got there. She finds a letter in her pocket, from the person she was before she was struck with amnesia, giving her instructions.

That’s the opening of The Rook, a very entertaining action-adventure-fantasy novel from Daniel O’Malley. Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) is a Rook in the chess-themed top-secret agency whose mission is to protect Great Britain from supernatural peril. The old Myfanwy learned that she was going to be betrayed by one of her colleagues and struck with amnesia, so she began to make detailed notes and instructions for the new Myfanwy to follow. The narrative of the novel alternates between new Myfanwy’s experiences and old Myfanwy’s letters.

Myfanwy must cope with the normal challenges of her job - England is under constant assault by all sorts of horrors - along with maintaining the secret of her amnesia, and finding out who is responsible. Matters are made more difficult by the fact that the old Myfanwy was a tearful wimp, respected by no one.

The problem with amnesia books - this one included - is that what the amnesiac does and does not remember sometimes seems awfully convenient. Myfanwy doesn’t remember that vampires and sentient purple fungi are real, but she does remember how to use a cell phone, drive, and check her bank balance at an ATM.

If you can accept that, The Rook is packed with action and often very funny. The idea of a secret organization tasked with combating monsters is not very new -- hello, The Initiative from season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I bet fans of Buffy would really enjoy The Rook, with its smart-mouthed heroine and constant onslaught of slime-oozing bad guys. It has the same sense of whimsy amid the gore.

I got interested in The Rook when I read an interview with Daniel O’Malley, who described his method of coping with boring work meetings: he would pretend he wasn’t really himself. This got him to thinking: How would you go about impersonating yourself? What would you need to know to pull it off successfully?

The Rook was the result of these somewhat unprofessional musings, and it is great fun.

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