The Rook
June 4, 2019 12:00 PM - by Daniel O'Malley - Subscribe

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

The TV series is starting June 30th on Starz.
posted by soelo (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I plan to read the book before the series starts. To be clear, this thread is for the book and there is a sequel called Stiletto.
posted by soelo at 12:02 PM on June 4, 2019

I loved this book when I read it, and was excited to read the sequel. The quality of urban fantasy has really improved over the last decade.

The story was a rare winner at the 'protagonist starts with amnesia' trope, often horribly misused for JRPGs.

I saw that Stephenie Meyer was slated to do the script adaptation for tv, but left for creative differences.
posted by Marticus at 4:14 PM on June 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed this when my book club read it a while back. Interestingly, though, the women in the group gave the main character some "obviously written by a guy" side eye, which I usually pick up on, but not in this case. One of the most compelling openings I can remember. Hope the series lives up to (or surpasses) the original.
posted by sapere aude at 4:20 PM on June 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is one of my favorite books of all time. I love Myfanvy I and pretty much am her. I love how she is is just the ultimate contingency planner and how she vents in writing. I love how Myfanvy 2 is really just kind of a reboot of the second one rather than a drastically different personality-- they like the same things and have the same skills, but M2 isn't bogged down by the emotional trauma that M1 went through because she doesn't remember it. M2 enjoys her powers and having a shout and making friends. This makes me think that having a rousing bout of amnesia might be fun. Har.

I did not feel "obviously written by a guy" at all in this one. Myfanwy isn't written as a sexy girl, she's just...normal. I enjoy that there's no romance except for the occasional sexy glance.

The superpowers are crazy unusual and inventive as well.
I was not *quite* as into book 2 but still enjoyed it. I don't have cable so sadly I'll never see this one but am privately relieved Stephenie Meyer is no longer involved because I dunno there. I haven't heard anything about the author in a few years, if he's still writing or what. Anyone know?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:24 PM on June 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

jenfullmoon, he says on Facebook that he's "working away madly" on Book 3, as at August 2018, so I imagine it is still a while away from publication.
posted by fever-trees at 6:53 PM on June 4, 2019

I am such a huge fan of this series. The bit with the prescient duck is still one of my favorite things!

Maybe it was a cstross tweet where he imagined that the Laundry and the Chequy could exist in the same universe. And given English bureaucracy, it might in fact be the case.

I had no idea the series would be out so soon! There is this trailer. The video diary gets around great gobs of reading, not sure about some of the other changes.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:47 PM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love this book!

I just learned about the Starz series via this post, and the trailer... also worries me. I don't remember The Rook being the Bourne Identity with powers, I remember the book having a lighter tone for the most part? Whatever, great excuse for a series re-read.

The switch away from Myfanwy's POV to Felicity/Odette in book 2 (which has been completely scrubbed from Stilleto's description, lol) worked because all three characters were adjusting to an organization they didn't quite understand. The trailer makes the show look more punchy-shooty-pew-pew.
posted by Anonymous Function at 10:31 PM on June 4, 2019

I love this book so much, although you have to not focus on the gruesome fates of many characters in the background - they're tossed off lightly, but if you look too closely...yikes! The powers that people have are different and in some cases so odd, but the way they're harnessed by the Chequy makes sense. And Myfanwy is such a great character. I didn't bump up against any of the "female character written by a man" stuff at all.

I didn't like the second one nearly as much, and have actually forgotten most of it.

The tv series looks good, but not tonally at all like the book.
posted by PussKillian at 11:08 AM on June 5, 2019

tv series!!! omg I had no idea. I love this book!!!!!!!!
posted by supermedusa at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2019

on Starz DAMMIT
posted by supermedusa at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

The bit with the prescient duck is still one of my favorite things!

And the dragon.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:37 PM on June 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

There is a scene with Myfanwy 2 looking at herself in a mirror that is pretty male-gazy, but that’s all I recall. It’s a fun thriller with a likable main character and some clever twists. The magical history of the US (or was that in book 2?) was laughable, but whatever.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:45 PM on June 5, 2019

Review by James Nicoll: Actor's Nightmare

I read the Rook a couple years ago, and enjoyed it tremendously. I like that the original Myfanwy's real súperpower was administration, and New Myfanwy had real worries over being able to do the job.

I'm not sure the preview of the TV series is all that different from the novel actually- I remember quite s bit of suspense and a high body lethality level for people not named Myfanwy. It is notable that the supernatural element is only hinted at in the preview.

I also remember cstross getting a bit snippy at the idea that a secret supernatural government agency could be elitist, hidebound and self-sabotaging. But honestly I think the Rook picks up the premise of the Laundry and carries it better. I am still a bit amazed that so much supernatural stuff could take place in such a small country.
posted by happyroach at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the book and had entirely forgotten about the upcoming series until this post. It's one of the handful of UF series I recommend to people, since it breaks out of the usual leather pants and guns mold and isn't terribly self-serious or angsty.
posted by tautological at 6:48 PM on June 6, 2019

Okay, just watched the trailer and was all "what the fuck is EVA trafficking?!"
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:02 AM on June 7, 2019

Oh I really enjoyed this book! I listened to the audiobook and read the paper version a few years ago. The audiobook narrator is very good--she does different voices but not in a grating way--it's just that you always know that different people are speaking, and she does a different voice for Myfanwy of the past and Myfanwy of the present.

One of the things I liked about the book was that it not only featured a woman as protagonist (and sort of two, if you look at her past and present selves as two people, which they sort of are), but it also showed her having relationships with other women that aren't all about men. She is close with her assistant Ingrid, with her sister Bronwyn, and Bishop Shantay Petoskey of the US version of the Chequy. I particularly liked that relationship because it was clear they were two strong women who related to each other as equally capable professionals, but also enjoyed a real friendship too. It was the portrayal of these positive relationships between women that kept making me forget it was written by a man. It's just unfortunately so rare to see that in literature or film--if there's a strong female protagonist, she's usually portrayed as a lone wolf or the only woman on a team of men (like in Wonder Woman). So yeah, you can have a supposedly feminist movie because there's a kick-ass woman at the centre of it, but...she's the only woman in the film, with no female friends, relatives, or colleagues. Or, there's another woman, but all the two women ever talk about is the other men. I see that again and again in movies and books and I'm so tired of it. The fact that The Rook doesn't play into that tired story was so refreshing!

That said, I had forgotten how graphic some of the violence is--at some points I'm like OOOOHHHH JESUS as Myfanwy is describing the horrible, brutal death of some member of the Chequy or one of the Grafters. Yuck. I'm wondering if they'll tone some of that down for the TV show.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:58 PM on June 8, 2019 [11 favorites]

That said, I do think there's a lot of humour in the book and, as tautological mentioned above, it doesn't take itself too seriously and isn't too angsty.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:00 PM on June 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've reread this so many times I've lost count. It tends to be my comfort book, since it's reliably a great time and (excepting that one short passage mentioned above, re: her physical description) doesn't set off my intensely fatigued sexism receptors.

I've always loved Gestalt as a concept. That line in one of Myfanwy 1's letters where she warns M2 not to forget that though the bodies go to some trouble to reinforce the illusion that they're separate personalities, there's only ever a single consciousness looking out at you from them is *chefskiss*. Chilling, and fun as hell.

There's a couple of different audiobook versions, but the one read by Susan Duerdan is fantastic. It might be because her reading of Myfanwy maps closer to my book-read of her, but I think I just like the character a lot more than the Katy Carmichael version.

I have absolutely no idea how the hell they'll film it, though. Heretic Gubbins alone..?!
posted by pseudonymph at 1:07 AM on June 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

Having just watched the trailer - Joely Fisher and Myfanwy's actress both look like great casting. Though they seem to be leaning into having the Lady be more of an active mentor?

Understandable for a series, I guess. You can't have video blogs doing all the exposition without it getting old fast.
posted by pseudonymph at 1:18 AM on June 9, 2019

Pseudonymph, I had no idea there were two audiobook versions—the one I have is the Susan Duerden one, and she is definitely fantastic.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:18 PM on June 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

"I really enjoyed this when my book club read it a while back. Interestingly, though, the women in the group gave the main character some 'obviously written by a guy' side eye, which I usually pick up on, but not in this case."

I read this because of this thread and maybe it primed me to notice this. But I thought it was egregious. It's significant to me that several women here disagree with this -- I'm a man and not authoritative. But a little more than half of the genre books I've been reading in the last ten years have been written by women with women protagonists, and they are just not like this book. Similarly, many other genre books I've read by men authors with women protagonists are similar to this book.

The scene everyone has in mind is such a literal example of the male-gaze: in the hotel the morning after she awakens, Myfanwy evaluates her body in the mirror. It's so like how men think and so unlike how I've heard women evaluate other women. Women are very aware of other women's appearance, of course, and obviously sensitive to conformance to conventional beauty standards. But even when women writers write women who want to fuck other women, they don't express this evaluation like men do, even when it's frankly sexual.

The specificity of Myfanwy's evaluation of herself and other women track closely with how most men assess the conventional attractiveness of women. It's always, always -- and obsessively -- about breasts. Women are self-conscious about their breasts and women writers will note this, but never harp on it as O'Malley does.

Women writers will have women be at least as perceptive (and detailed) about evaluating other women's fashion as their bodies; oftentimes that's more telling in characterological terms. What do we know about the sexy red dress? Well, it's red, features her breasts, and has a train. The dress is important in the book!

Women writers have a distinctly female gaze (not politically equivalent, there's not the power imbalance, I'm just noting that it's distinctive) when describing men (height, build, shape of face, eyes, shoes, hands and facial expressivity) and there's almost always parity between the attention paid to both men and women.

In contrast, male writers usually have women evaluate all other women's sexual attractiveness but only that of a few men where it's exceptionally high and a plot point. Male writers rarely have their women protagonists note unattractiveness of men. I think if you can categorize all the women characters by their breast size, but not all the men by their height, that's a big clue that it's a man writing. Women genre writers tend not to write about menstruation, except occasionally in a mundane sort of way; if men do acknowledge it (which is almost never), it's almost always pretty visceral and vaguely exotic.

I recognize that I'm mansplaining in the case of women reading this comment -- but I strongly feel I saw all these tropes in this book and I'm puzzled that several women here did not. I'm reminded, though, of the recent discussion of strong antisemitism in the books by a popular author where even many Jewish people said they didn't notice it or forgot it because, well, it's so common.

As a man, the way men write women characters with the male gaze has only been visible to me more recently not because I learned the theory, but because I began reading so many books by women writing about women. And, well, this is most especially true with regard to urban fantasy which is dominated by women writers and women protagonists. Lots of other women genre writers write outside of the particular context of urban fantasy and paranormal romance -- which I recognize is a singular context and so might be unusual -- but they don't write women like men do, either. Nicola Griffith comes to mind.

I'm also inclined to believe my evaluation is correct because it's in line with other, similar problems. The book is filled with British characters using Americanisms. I read a lot of books by British and Irish writers writing about characters outside of the US, as well as a lot of British TV. Although O'Malley was born in Australia and lives there now, he grew up in the US and went to university in the US.

For an example of how not-very-British this supposedly very British book was (as in Stross's Laundry Files books, this is essential to the satire), there was too much coffee and not nearly enough tea.

The humor was British -- understated, dry, ironic -- but sporadic, like writerly flourishes rather than endemic and organic, as you typically get from funny British writers.

I skimmed a few sections, which is rare for me, as O'Malley included a lot of world-building detail that was almost entirely irrelevant to anything else and uninteresting on its own -- I got the sense of a writer enamored with his own elaborate creation, most of which exists in his head. It's really tricky to include detail that fills out and breathes life into a book rather than seeming more like a digression -- this is especially true of genre writers.

Was Myfanwy the same as Thomas? In some important respects her "brain re-wiring" makes it clearly not so. This is the central theme of the book, I but don't think it engages this in any deep or interesting way at all, which was disappointing.

The choice to have Richards write letters to Myfanwy that includes descriptive narrative and dialogue was a mistake, mostly because the otherwise mild implausibility was made blatant by the fact that Richards wrote exactly like O'Malley. This irritated me hugely and greatly undermined my suspension of disbelief.

A minor but emblematic problem was that O'Malley had Richards note a few truly bizarre Pawns, some difficult to imagine, only as a way to lampshade how weird this all was, yet all or almost all of the Chequy characters we actually meet are relatively conventional. So it's more of a 'tell' than a 'show'.

Well, I obviously didn't like this book. I don't enjoy bashing other people's favorite things but I sort of needed to vent my displeasure...and it may give someone thinking about reading the book something useful in making their decision. I wish I'd liked it as much as some of you clearly do.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Loved this book. In a relate note I ran across some early calligraphy practice I did that reads "this duck tells me nothing" and it took me FOREVER to place why I wrote those words in that order - thank you for jogging my memory that it came from this book!

(Maybe slightly spoilery of sense 8? Haven't seen it so I don't know if this is proprietary info...) also - Someone was describing the premise of Sense 8 to me, and all I could think of was if the producers of the show had read the rook. I don't remember a ton of the plot and which storylines were in which of the two books, but I just remember being flabbergasted in a good way by the connected-mind aspect of the plot.

I really hope the TV series doesn't overly sexualize Myfanwy. I stayed far away from the American Gods adaptation because the way they made Shadow look in the trailers was NOTHING like the lumbering guy I took away from my book reading. It's a true pet peeve of mine when normal or slightly abnormal characters get the sexy Hollywood airbrushed treatment in visual adaptations. Give me regular folks or give me death!!!!
posted by seemoorglass at 6:20 PM on June 13, 2019

Also, similar to jenfullmoon, I think part of why I loved this book warts and all, is that Myfanwy's abrupt shift from risk analyst doormat to uninhibited badass just seemed fun and freeing. That trope of starting over or "going out to sea" is such a male dominated trope that I loveddddddd that a "regular" yet badass woman character got to do it and do it well.
posted by seemoorglass at 6:38 PM on June 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

I enjoyed this book a great deal -- thanks for the upgraded fanfare page so I could find it -- and recommend it a lot. (I liked book two as well.)

Re: male gaze, yes, that one scene was VERY eye-rolly (as were some of the descriptions of Shantay), but overall the book (and the sequel, which has one or two similar scenes but is at a good level about female characters also) is more interested in fashion than the bodies under the clothing (the second book to a greater extent). It's not perfect, but it has women who are very competent and who support each other and who have different skills and interests.

This is the only amnesia story I have ever liked. I think Myfanwy (2) is meant to be, more or less, the person Thomas (1) would have been without the trauma that she went through when the Chequey look her.

I skip the bit with the duck; I find it too upsetting.

(NB, the audiobook of The Rook that I have is racist when there is a Chinese girl at the school and I'm glad there are others, I might look for them.)

I'll see what reviews are for the TV show but dumping Shantay has made me pretty wary.
posted by jeather at 11:16 AM on June 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I liked The Rook quite a bit, and I enjoyed Stiletto but it was disappointing in comparison. I think because I really enjoyed being in Myfanwy's head, and Stiletto teased us with lots of interactions, but just not enough Myfanwy. She's great.

I hope the show is great but I have my doubts. The attacks and outbreaks in the book were Lovecraftian enough in nature that they would be hard to reproduce onscreen, with mental traps and living houses and whatnot.
posted by graventy at 4:18 PM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am intrigued by the comments in this thread where people express the opinion that M1 and M2 are basically the same person.

Because in my opinion neither Myfanwy believed that. The Greek Oracle explicitly said a new soul will open its eyes in her body, and the Lady immediately saw that it was a different person when they spoke in a dream. Those are pretty much the only people who knew the full truth, and all of them felt like it was two different people who consecutively occupied a single body. And I believed them without question.

I mean, they both have the same brain, and the same neuro-chemistry, and both have a fondness for the name "Jeanne", which I always thought interesting.

So you guys have given me something to think about.

On another note, while I was searching through my Kindle version to confirm that name was indeed Jeanne, I saw the author's music playlist. Did anyone ever listen to the songs? What did you think?
posted by seasparrow at 7:37 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna discuss some whopping spoilers for other series that others might not have read, so pardon me while I rot13 a few things...

On the one hand: all of those people think M2 is a totally new person.

On the other hand, here's why I don't believe that:
M1 and M2 have the same body. Same brain. Same skills. Same overall likes and dislikes. M2 finds the same body of Gestalt cute that M1 did and also likes bunnies and the same foods. M2 also turns out to really like organization and contingency planning. I would buy that M2 is a totally different person if M2 say, was now inclined to be a lesbian, hates and is no longer good at doing management and organization, and suddenly wants to join a rock n' roll band. That's exactly why I say that M2 is a reboot, not a "new person" as in totally and utterly different. M2 wasn't a body snatcher.

Whereas say, this series starts in a similar manner with someone losing their memories and never getting them back, but (rot13 spoilers) vg'f cerggl pyrne gung Fny vf n zhpu zvyqre crefbanyvgl (naq yrneavat qvfnoyrq) jvgu qvssrerag cersreraprf naq vagrerfgf guna Fnyyl unq. V jba'g trg vagb gur cybg ernfbaf jul urer, ohg V obhtug gur "gbgnyyl arj crefba" va gung obbx. Zrnajuvyr, Fny'f snzvyl frrzf gb xvaq bs or va qravny gung gurve hfhnyyl ibyngvyr puvyq vf orunivat hggreyl qvssreragyl guna fur hfrq gb.

The most different thing about the two besides lack of memory is that M2 doesn't remember the things that made M1 so inhibited. If you spent your life dealing with a shy person and then one day said person was all, "fuck that, I'm wearing this really revealing dress and throwing down in a fight," yeah, you might possibly consider them a "totally different person," or really it's just a different side of them that never saw the light before. Or a rebooted side.

I sort of feel the same about reading Deadline by Mira Grant: the author herself says something about a particular plot development that I straight up did not agree with. rot13 spoiler here: gur nhgube fnlf gung "Trbetr" va Qrnqyvar vf bayl n svtzrag bs Funha'f vzntvangvba, naq abg n tubfg. Ubjrire, V jrag guebhtu gur obbx va qrgnvy gelvat gb svther bhg vs "Trbetr" xarj guvatf gung Funha pbhyqa'g cbffvoyl xabj naq va zl bcvavba, "Trbetr" qvq. Abg va gur nhgube'f bcvavba gubhtu.

I am not a fan of the "Death of the Author" theory and generally believe that if JK Rowling wants to say that it's canon that wizards randomly poop where they stand, she can do that even if we don't like it. I respect an author's set canon. However, occasionally I will just have to flat out disagree and say that even if the author intended X, I sure as fuck read it as Y and I cannot possibly interpret what they wrote down as being X because it's so very, very Y to me and I can't ignore that. That's how I feel about M1 vs. M2. There were ways that the author could have written M2 that made me feel that M2 was utterly different than M1 (rock n' roll lesbian!), but he did not write it that way, so I don't and can't read it that way or agree with his intention that M2 is utterly different.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:59 AM on June 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think I mostly agree with jenfullmoon- despite the book insisting on the two being completely different people, it does seem closer to M2 without the trauma of being torn from her family and learning that people don’t stay or really care about her.

I just did a reread because of this thread, and realized that while some of the writing works really well (a lot of this in M1’s letters), there are a few word choices that are so clunky that I cringe when I read them. See “chicks” and “nerds.” I also realized I have no desire to reread Stiletto.

Also, WTF writing out Shantay?
posted by PussKillian at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I read The Rook and Stiletto, but count me as a woman who definitely picked up on the "woman written by a man" thing that others have referenced. I don't remember any one scene in particular, but the overall character of M2 seemed very "Strong Female Character" to me. She was too good at everything all the time, and it felt like what happens when men don't want to be accused of writing "weak" women, so they overcompensate by making them super badass (in a physically intimidating way) and with no real flaws.

I still generally enjoyed it (especially since I love mysteries), and it was a fast and exciting read, and I liked the world. I'd still generally recommend it, and I may watch the tv show if it gets good reviews. I liked Stiletto less, especially since the first chapter contains an attempted rape scene that was not plot-relevant (I guess it was to show the main character is badass and Can Take Care Of Herself? /shrug).
posted by catabananza at 9:01 PM on June 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Weird, I've had this book from the library for a month but am only 1/3 of the way in. I didn't expect to see a FanFare post about it... or a show... guess I'll finish it in the next few days. Also yes, it's overdue right now oops.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:30 PM on June 25, 2019

I'm only 80% of the way through this but I am finding it wildly entertaining. Even so, there were a few moments of 'this is definitely written by a dude' side-eye, but I was having enough fun to overlook that. I just came here to say that I found the bit with the duck to be really upsetting.
posted by dogheart at 3:50 AM on July 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I picked it up and am most of the way through. I find it extremely male-gazey and man-writing-a-woman-y. Not just the mirror scene, but the period reference (WTF), the gyno humor (not LOL), the clothing stuff. My basic take is that the book set up the expectation for me that it would be pretty interior and psychological, but it's actually just entirely plot and not interested in exploring anything real about how a person would react to any of the things that the characters encounter.

Anyway it's fun and gets me through my commute, but it's a bit more My Dad Wrote A Porno than it is literature, if you know what I mean.
posted by prefpara at 9:40 AM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just finished this - it's kind of fun to have a smart, funny female protagonist that takes all of the ridiculous amounts of body horror and gore happening around her in stride, and I do like that there is an amnesia plot that's not filled with angst. She has amnesia, she's working around it, and is willing to make it up as she goes along.

I did wish that there was some sort of suspicion from someone who wasn't completely in the know. I kept on waiting for someone to put together the there was a secret invasion going on with the fact that Myfanwy was acting really, really weirdly and have them assume that she's a spy, but nobody seemed to be suspect her at all. Is it just that suspecting her would be impolite?

At the beginning the infodumps from Thomas were annoying to read, and I don't think I retained anything from them once Myfanwy entered the Chequy until maybe halfway through the book.

The period reference and gyno humor didn't strike me as thaty male gazey, as someone who loves telling stories about really awkward gyno appointments and has a few good menstrual jokes saved up for the right crowd (there probably should be something more than just mentioning a vagina to them, but eh). The scene at the beginning and the lack of description of the red dress did. Like, was the problem that it was strapless and therefore felt like it was in danger of falling down? Why was it so complicated to put on? Did it require her to move in uncomfortable ways or keep her arms down at all times? Was the fabric breathable or stretch in any way? What was the shoe situation?

Instead of having it be 'Thomas would never wear something that showed off her breasts that much' it could have been 'Thomas would never wear something that emphasized sexiness over arm movement and pockets', which would have had the same effect.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:45 AM on August 22, 2019

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