The Rook: On Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service

Book cover: The Rook by Daniel O Malley

When Myfanwy Thomas wakes up surrounded by dead bodies in a London park and no memory, she’s ever so grateful for the note in her pocket with instructions. Now she just has to fake she knows what she’s doing as a very senior member of a very secret government agency, save Britain from supernatural threats and figure out who stole her memory… without anyone noticing.

I bought this on a whim ages ago, and in spite of hearing lots of good buzz about it, it’s taken me forever to get round to reading it. This is partly because I get suspicious of buzz – ‘oh, it’ll never live up to the hype’ and partly because I’m rubbish. Don’t make my mistake. Read The Rook.

Supernatural London is getting to be a crowded place, so it’s no small endeavour to launch another ship to sail those waters. Thankfully O’Malley has come up with a resourceful heroine, loveable allies, a suitably iconic supernatural agency to keep tabs on all the unmentionables, and a big sense of humour. Having grown up in Holland, I may have found the fact the villains were Belgian a smidgeon funnier even than intended.

The things that bothered me were almost entirely down to the fact that O’Malley isn’t British, and he’s trying to write convincing Brits. He does pretty well – he’s got dry snark down just fine – but he inevitably makes a couple of basic cock-ups that stand out (such as Myfanwy having a 6-digit pin for her credit card, or wondering if she could remember how to drive a manual. No, she’s British. She may be wondering whether she can remember how to drive at all, but it would never occur to her to wonder about her gear stick). These things are entirely incidental to the plot, and there aren’t many of them, but they shook me out of the world each time.

However, this is nitpicking. By and large, this was a rollicking joyride of daft proportions, with colourful characters and a pleasant absence of paranormal romance (although there were heavy hints that this will almost certainly be in store for Myfanwy in future instalments). It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which largely helps the suspension of disbelief (the episode with the prophetic duck was a joy), and it is randomly peppered with what appear to be offhand allusions to other supernatural fictions that it has cheerfully adopted as part of the universe (I spotted Midwich and Narnia; I’m fairly sure I was meant to pick up a couple more). And I loved that it is almost entirely gender-neutral.

I do think it showed itself as a first novel in a few places, so I can only expect to enjoy future instalments more as O’Malley gets comfortable. But this was certainly entertaining.