lifetime book-lover who writes about - what else? - a variety of books.
imagine a world in which x-men-style mutants exist, but no one knows they exist except for the government. and instead of trying to eradicate these mutants (which would be foolish, right?), the government recruits them to secretly fight other baddies and goulies of the supernatural like werewolves, demons, dragons, et cetera. in The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, the british version of this secret government organization is "The Chequay," and all of its employees have titles named after chess pieces. everyone agrees this a terrible way to arrange an organization, but it's tradition so whaddaya gonna do?
our heroine Myfawnwy Thomas is a Rook in The Chequay, and for the most part her job is pretty sweet. it includes a chauffeur service, expensive clothes, a few well-appointed apartments, great health benefits, and the respect that comes with being a member of the court. she also has a very special power that will come in handy on more than one occasion.
the only problem is that Myfawnwy has no idea who she is. not only does she have the worst case of amnesia ever, she has no idea how she got that way. the only thing Myfawnwy does have is a series of well-executed letters written by her pre-amnesia self to her post-amnesia self, because pre-amnesia Myfawnwy knew she was going to loose her memory in the near future (it's a long story). so Myfawnwy has a few problems: she's got the whole amnesia thing, a traitor to uncover, and an ancient foe of the Chequay to defeat.
i came away from this book with very mixed feelings. for starters, i probably went into it with very high expectations. judging from the reviews and comments on it, just about everyone who's read this book has loved it. plus, this kind of reading is usually right up my alley. yet, for the first half of the book, it felt like it was both trying too hard and not trying hard enough. most of my issues stemmed from its very uninteresting main character, about which i've already complained. another problem i had was that i didn't find the inner workings of the court -- the conferences and strategizing -- all that interesting either. in a novel with vampires, buried dragons, and beings that can make their bodies do ungodly, nightmarish things, i don't find conference room meetings all that exciting. unfortunately it takes up a lot of the first half, or least it felt like it did.
what i did enjoy was Myfawnwy's trips into the field where we actually see The Chequay in action. we see Myfawnwy in action too, which is a welcome relief. Myfawnwy herself doesn't really come into her own until the American versions of The Chequay arrive in London (to consult about that old enemy), and Myfawnwy makes a friend in Shantay (who is a badass, and who I wish there was more of). this is about half-way through the book when the action picks up and doesn't let up until the end. needless to say, i liked this part much more than i had the first half. the second half didn't make it a perfect book, but i'm happy i stuck with it since i was really enjoying myself by the time i turned the final page. also, i didn't figure out who the traitor was until Myfawnwy did, so that was a bonus.
all-in-all, it was a mixed bag, but worth reading. especially if anything about this world sounds like it might be something you'd enjoy. and besides, as i said before, as much as i liked it, the majority of people who've read this one seem to have liked it even more.