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

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

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A quirky, fun, action-packed men/women from the ministry type urban fantasy that I really hope is going to be the first of many.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1908800374

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A woman wakes up with amnesia surrounded by dead people wearing gloves. In her pocket she discovers a letter from Myfanwy Thomas, the previous inhabiter of her body. Myfanwy tells a strange story of working for 'the Checquy', a paranormal version of MI5 which has been permeated by a web of betrayal and danger. The problem is that Myfanwy never discovered the source before her body changed hands (so to speak). The amnesiac has a clear choice: to continue Myfanwy's investigation or to do a runner. It's her decision but Myfanwy's warning is less than encouraging:

Remember they want you dead.

Something for her to bear in mind along with the fatal, unintended consequences of permitting cheap cheese into the UK.

Head of Zeus, a comparatively new publisher, is fast becoming synonymous with eclectic quality. As proof this debut novel from Aussie civil servant Daniel O'Malley is definitely up there with the brightest and best. Yes, stand back - I'm about to rave.

There have been fantasies before about amnesiacs and secret organisations but I've never come across one combining so much fun with an undercurrent of tense menace. Indeed The Rook is a genre-jumper that's effectively a less manic Men in Black with a less serious X-Men with wry Yes Minister humour and mid-levels of blood and gore. The cover mentions a similarity to X Files and Jasper Fforde which I too can see.

As she tells us her story herself, we're swept along and utterly convinced by the person inhabiting Myfanwy's body. We're completely on her side as she is confused by her unfamiliar job as a Checquy rook (more on that later) and her paranormal powers while looking over her shoulder in case every shadow is the last she sees. She's strong, witty and as baffled as we are till slowly it all becomes clear. I did worry at the beginning when a man growing tentacles (yes, I did spell that correctly) was mentioned but the writing's quality makes disbelief suspension easy, leaving any worry as a transient thought rather than a problem. (This also goes for Brits drifting into American patois from time to time – nothing worth dwelling on.)

New Myfanwy's story is interspersed with letters from old Myfanwy, sometimes filling in Checquy history, sometimes info on her colleagues, sometimes just musings on life but always totally enthralling as Daniel O'Malley is an expert world-crafter. Set up to keep Britain safe from paranormal danger (Did you really think that airport sniffer dogs only detected contraband?) the Checquy also comes with centuries of historical back story contributing to the novel's addictiveness. The organisation is based on chess with pawns (the field operatives) and the strategist Court Members, i.e. rooks, chevaliers (knights) and a lord and lady to replace royalty in case the Windsors take exception. The operatives are stolen from their parents as children under a credible subterfuge as soon as paranormal gifting surfaces and then schooled to further develop.

There are certainly enough loose ends for a sequel, hopefully once again including the Grafters which make Belgium's other imports look positively healthy by comparison. The monsters, paranormal events and one-liners (carpet with a pile so thick you need a machete to go to the bathroom is a particular favourite) are only limited by Mr O'Malley's imagination so I'm betting there's more from whence they came. The chaps don't come off too well in this first offering, but I've a feeling that will change. Indeed, my fingers are crossed that The Rook is only the start, meaning check rather than checkmate. (Yep, I'm groaning too!)

If you enjoyed this and like your fantasy pacey and quirky, we heartily recommend Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway.

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