Read by Susan Duerden
Length: 17 Hrs 51 Min
Quick Thoughts: The Rook is one of the most fascinating Fantasies I have experienced in a long time, truly touching that sense of wonder as only the best Fantasies can. In many ways, this is the novel that JK Rowling’s should have wrote next, an adult fantasy that reminds us of those feelings we would get as a child hiding under our blankets trying to read just one more chapter.
Of all the genres out there, Fantasy is the one that best evokes a sense of wonder for me. I love gritty realistic thrillers, and high tech science fiction, but with Fantasy, I want the size and style of my universe to be altered in ways I never even would have considered. Now, despite the fact that I will pick up and enjoy the epic fantasy every once in a while, with their fully realized worlds and it’s denizens experienced in its ways I prefer the characters of my fantasy novels to be just as much a novice in the ways of magic and the physics of their fantasy setting as I am. This is why I always liked Portal Fantasies, where a regular everyday ho humm person is swooped away into a land of magic and wonder. I want to follow Harry to Hogwarts to learn the ways of magic for the first time. I want to walk through the Wardrobe and find Mr. Tumnus waiting there for me. I am willing to be pulled into a new reality by a gunslinger on a quest, or even enter a world so different and beautiful that I refuse to believe its real, but just a dream made up by my demented subconscious. You experience the wonders of these worlds side by side with the characters that you are following on their journey. For me, these stories are the true magic, and in my opinion, the epitome of fantasy.
The Rook starts off with one of the more compelling openings I have read/listened to in Fantasy for a while. A women wakes, standing on the rain surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, with no idea of who she is. She finds a letter in her pocket telling her the body she is wearing belongs to a woman named Myfanwy Thomas, and that someone is trying to kill her. Following the instructions in the letter, she is given two choices, either disappear forever using the resources left for her by the original Myfanwy Thomas, or take over Myfanwy’s life and responsibilities and find out who is trying to kill her. This opening allows author Daniel O’Malley to create a portal fantasy unlike any other. Despite the fact that Myfanwy Thomas is a powerful member of a secret magical society, you and our heroine are experiencing it together fresh. Myfanwy is guided by a series of letters left to her by her former self, who through strange events was warned that she would be attacked, and left with her memories and personality stripped and that someone entirely new would wake up in her body. O’Malley has created a fascinating world, one that I felt instantly drawn to. Yet, the true beauty of the novel is in the dual accounts of Myfanwy, one a powerful, but shy magical bureaucrat who never reached the full potential of her unique powers, the other a fresh version of the original who will often fight when the first Myfanwy would cower. O’Malley effectively plays with how one’s memories and history shape a person, creating two Myfanwy Thomases, with differing personalities, but that are linked with the same base potential. I also enjoyed the magical choices that O’Malley made for his characters. None of them were pat, but differing unique skills that the author finds interesting uses for thought the story. The overall conflict, both with the internal search for Myfanwy’s attacker and the institutional struggle with a powerful enemy thought to be long dead is well executed, creating a series of wonderful and exciting action scenes. My only real complaint is often O’Malley would leave us hanging over a cliff, as he broke away from the story to bring us one of the original Myfanwy’s letters. While this effectively helped build tension and created back story, I felt myself wanting to hurry through it to get back to the action, which is next to impossible to do in audiobook form. The Rook is one of the most fascinating Fantasies I have experienced in a long time, truly touching that sense of wonder as only the best Fantasies can. In many ways, this is the novel that JK Rowling’s should have wrote next, an adult fantasy that reminds us of those feelings we would get as a child hiding under our blankets trying to read just one more chapter.
While this was my first time listening to Susan Duerden as an audiobook narrator, her voice is instantly recognizable from the character she played in the series Lost. Duerden authentically captures the British feel of this novel, with her witty sarcastic tones and breathy reading of the action scenes. She has an interesting flow to her reading, running breathlessly through long lists of potential enemies with a humorous panache, and an almost effective clumsiness to Myfanwy often rambling thought process. Her style is so engaging and full of good humor that it totally ingratiates you to the main character. Her peripheral characters are equally effective, a highlight being her voicing of the unstable Belgium leader of her agency’s chief enemy. Her capturing of this blustery, egomaniacal figure offered some of the most genuinely funny moments of this audiobook. With O’Malley’s wonderful world and characters and Duerden’s engaging narration The Rook is one of my favorite listens of this year.