The Rook (The Checquy Files #1) by Daniel O'Malley

The Rook  - Daniel O'Malley

Myfanwy Thomas opens her eyes standing in a park, in the driving rain, surrounded by several bodies, all curiously wearing latex gloves. She has no idea who she is, how she got there, or who they are, and only knows her name because of a letter in her coat pocket. A letter she wrote, to her future self, before she lost her memory.


tl;dr review: This is a great series starter. A very capable and smart, but also very human and compassionately written heroine, in a fantastic and fantastical world, puzzles her way through the mystery that amounts to more or less who murdered her.


I really enjoyed this, and can highly recommend it if you're a UF fan.


Extra crispy bits: No romance in sight, no love triangles, actual capable female characters (yes, multiple of them, and it even passes the Bechdel test by a mile). Not that I don't like romance in my UF, but it's nice to see a book where it's not even necessary. And it's not done pointedly or being lampshaded - these are just who the characters happen to be. This is how you do it, author folks, it doesn't have to be a big deal.


More thoughts:

Take the X-Men and mix it up with a little MI 5 and Charles Stross Laundry files, and you have the Checquy, Britain's secret Ministry of the Supernatural. Myfanwy is not just a member, she's The Rook, one of two members of the Checquy responsible for domestic threats. Alongside her rank the Chevaliers (the Knights), responsible for international threats, above her the Bishops and the lord and lady (because, despite the chess themed structure, you can't actually have a King and Queen when there already is one in the country.)


Steered by the letters and informational dossiers her super-organised and capable former self wrote, the newly awakened person inhabiting Myfanwy Thomas body has to steer her way through this strange world inhabited by people who share one mind for four bodies, can turn their skins to steel, or have hair that can get you high if you eat it. And while her previous self knew that someone would do this terrible thing to her, removing her memories and effectively killing her, she didn't know how, or even exactly when. Nor does she know who, but she reasons it must be one of the other members of the court, the very people she works with every day and considers at least her allies, if not always friends.


Luckily the new Myfanwy is equally as capable and organised as the old was, and manages to literally fake it until she makes it through her first few days.


Things are complicated by the fact that Britain seems to be in the midst of a clandestine invasion by a rival and fairly evil organisation of "enhanced" people, who aim to destroy the Checquy, and who may or may not be related to what happened to Myfanwy.


The world-building is great, the amnesia trope and the letters mean we learn the world alongside Myfanwy and let's the author get away with tons of exposition and backstory in a clever and unobtrusive way. In less deft hands, this wouldn't have worked, but the letters are increasingly a memoir from the old Myfanwy who knows she will be erased and wants her new self to really know who she used to be.


Another interesting twist is along the lines of how much of what and who we are is nature and how much is nurture? Myfanwy V1.0 had a traumatic childhood, manifesting some fairly scary powers and abilities at age 9, being handed over by her parents without much protest to a shadowy government facility for education - a facility where most of the children living there had been there since birth, and so she didn't fit in. She's a loner, lonely, has no family or friends, and is afraid of her own ability, burying herself in being a super-executive instead of a super-hero.


Myfanwy 2.0 has trauma of another sort, she literally doesn't know who she is, but she's also not afraid of herself, or her abilities. Instead she sets about figuring them out, learning to use them, and learning--and pushing--their limits. This Myfanwy isn't afraid to make a friend, or go to a party either. But how much of that can she get away with, before the people around her figure out she's not V1.0 anymore, and what would the consequences be?


This is smart well-written contemporary UF, and I really liked it. For a series starter from a debut author, it's very very good.