This story had everything that I loved. The paranormal, a mystery, a strong female lead, a dry comic wit, interesting characters, a supernatural secret service, and plenty of weirdness.
A warning though: be here some spoilers as this is a comparison between the book and the television series.
The biggest draw-back with the novel was its propensity to excessive info-dumping. In the form of diary entries, letters, re-tellings… and they went on for pages. You would get some sort of background information, flashback, or journal entry every 5 pages or so. It really bogged down the pacing of ‘The Rook,’ and frankly, had me losing interest many, many times. The subject matter was interesting and slightly relevant to the plot, but altogether longwinded and far too common in the narrative. I feel like this novel could have been 150pages shorter and been one heck of a read. The television series handled this a lot better; instead of lengthy letter reading, we get succinct video files. A more omnipresent form of narration meant we got to see things unravel for ourselves. This story is built better for television.
Consequently I had started this novel twice and abandoning it before getting 50 pages in because it was, well … scattered. At my third attempt, I pushed through as many pages as I could before I was again bombarded with all-too-many info-dumps. It wasn’t until I got just passed the halfway point (pg 260 or thereabouts) that I felt like the plot had a direction and a driving force for protagonist Myfanwy pulling the story into focus. I was hooked on the television series right away however. It is more in the tone of a spy thriller though… and to that end a lot of the paranormal happenings, and the outlandish comedy of some of these things from the novel were ignored by the small screen version to keep a more serious tone. A bummer really – I loved the concluding scenes of the novel, and there is nothing like that in the tv show.
I have a bit of a thing with amnesia as a storytelling device. It’s an overused trope and can either be executed poorly, or brilliantly. Thankfully ‘The Rook’ falls into the latter category. This wasn’t an ‘I bumped my head and my memories are slowly coming back’ type plot, but a part of a paranormal mystery. In the novel Myfanwy never gets her memories back, but the television show had her gaining back her memory in short snippets which I felt was a massive disservice to the story (and the abilities of paranormals)… but I guess it works better for a visual presentation. But Emma Greenwell’s portrayal of Myfanwy Thomas is definitely a highlight of the series. I was also bummed out at the special effects and how she uses her powers – like she was having a seizure – and the blackened fingers. I felt this was an unnecessary addition to add drama. I liked the fact her abilities were more covert like it was represented in the novel.
Daniel O’Malley has a quaint writing style with a dry sense of humour. He has a gorgeous way of painting a picture for character descriptions, and I thoroughly enjoyed – and got lost – in the narrative. Again, my only gripe is – edit! Edit lots! I’m uncertain if all the information we get in ‘The Rook’ was relevant to the storyline. Is all that superfluous information going to be resolved in the sequel ‘Stilletto,’ or was it just that Daniel was so immersed in the world of ‘The Rook’ that all the details felt like they were important? There are no pacing issues with the small screen version, but I was repeatedly wondering why they made the tweaks to the story they did. The show felt a little bland. The humour is gone. The tension of Myfanwy having nowhere to turn, not knowing who to trust was great in the novel – but in the show, felt a little all over the place.
Where American agent Monica Reed (played by Olivia Munn) was an ally in the novel, she has become more of an antagonist, or an alternate protagonist in the tv series, I was most unhappy of the treatment of the storyline involving Monica, Myfanwy, and Marcus Kevler. The whole thing had me going hrmmm…
The paranormal powers were so imaginative, scary, and hilarious in the novel. So many obtuse and unique abilities to rival the X-Men. There are a lot of characters in ‘The Rook’ too. Even with all the copious explanations and backstories, I didn’t start to identify all the cast separately until after the halfway point. It was much easier in the television series, but did not like the treatment and storyline of Conrad Grantchester (played by Adrian Lester.) It moved away from the ominous tone of the members of the Checquy, how Myfanwy has to face them… and the power struggle, political manoeuvrings that play into the novels epic conclusion. The tv show went in a different – and in my opinion, much watered down tangent.
There are definitely great characters in this story and to delve even further into them would turn this post into a novel in itself, but notable appearance and interpreted by some great actors were also Gestalt (Jon Fletcher, Ronan Raferty, and Catherine Steadman) and Lady Farrier (Joely Richardson.) Also of note – I was extremely disappointed to see Gestalts pregnancy ignored in the tv show… I thought that was a great twist.
The main plot of the story in the novel is that Myfanwy is basically an impostor, impersonating her pre-amnesia self as the timid paranormal agent (or rook) and discover the identity of which of her workmates was responsible for the attack. An attack which was a failed murder attempt (we find out later in order to cover up a covert takeover of the Checquy.) It is all about deduction, investigation, and following instinct; not to mention dealing with all the strangeness of the paranormal around her. Working out who to trust. ‘The Rook’ is definitely up there as one of my favourite reads. While the television show followed the same vein, much of the fear of the Checquy (and their awesome abilities) was removed, or humanised. I guess it makes it more palatable to the general viewing public and keeps the tone of the show in a paranormal spy thriller (and omitted all of the wit and comedy from the novel.) I hoped it could have stayed truer to the source material.
In the novel the characters are all colourful and fully realised – how can they not be with all the narrative O’Malley dedicates to each. The storyline is intriguing and was the driving force in me picking up this title. At 482 pages long – and the formatting is at a maximum to fit a lot of words on each page without it looking crowded means this is a long book. Which brings me back to the pacing… ‘The Rook’ felt waaaay too long.
But when all is said and done, O’Malley has written a marvellous novel and I will definitely be continuing on with the series, and I hope a lot of the elements introduced in ‘The Rook’ will be addressed in the sequel ‘Stiletto.’ The tv show has yet to be cancelled or renewed as yet, and I will be interested to see in what direction the next season will go: will it swing back to the tone of the novel, or continue on its path of power struggle and political intrigue within a covert spy organisation?
I’d love to recommend this novel to all, but knowing the issues I had with the pacing, I don’t think everyone will have the patience to see it through to the end. But if you can handle a slower pace and love paranormal detective stories, then ‘The Rook’ has a lot to offer. Otherwise the small screen adaptation is a cracker of a show and one I’d happily recommend.
In the meantime, stay tuned for my book review of ‘The Rook’s’ sequel ‘Stiletto’ in the months to come. Another Aussie born author I’m glad to add to my shelves.
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