Monday, February 02, 2015

The Rook

See, the Kindle is good for reading in dimly-lit bars with a beer. Daniel O'Malley's 2012 debut novel 'The Rook' is strangely compelling and rather enjoyable. There's a certain sort of dry humor in there. When read with a crisp British accent, the lines spouted by the various characters tickled me loads. (Reviews here, here and here.)

Myfanwy (intended to be pronounced incorrectly as 'Mifanny' in this book) Thomas is a Rook in a clandestine government organization of humans 'The Checquy' based in London. It's a hierarchical organization staffed by humans with special powers charged to protect the United Kingdom from all sorts of supernatural threats or what they call "manifestations". Humans without powers are relegated as 'Retainers' and are unlikely to attain the executive ranks within the highest management level called 'Court'. There's naturally a nemesis organization called 'Grafters' from Belgium, formally known as 'Wetenschappelijk Broederschap van Natuurkundigen' that tinkles with human physiology and make monsters out of them. It's headed up by ancient insane Graaf Gerd de Leeuwen and the slightly more sane Graaf Ernst von Suchtlen.

The Broederschap tries to subvert members of The Checquy, and naturally, there're traitors and all. Someone wiped out Myfanwy's memories and tried to kill her. She survived, without her memories. The old nerdy timid Myfanwy knew it was coming and prepared for it, leaving a series of clues and letters with tons of details for the new stronger amnesiac with a new personality who inhabited the body with all powers intact. Thus begins a quest to find out her would-be killers at Court and having to deal with a thousand threats, while reading the letters from old Myfanwy in order not to screw up too badly.

"Forty years?"
"Yes, that is how long the rumor of the duck has been going around the country."
"Dr. Crisp, I understand that the world is a strange place. I've just spent the better part of a half hour being told in an offensively patronizing manner how strange the world is. But you are telling me that this duck is older than me?"
"That duck has been in the same family for three generations," said Dr Crisp.
"The duck is immortal?" I squeaked. People looked around in surprise, and I flushed.
"The duck is... long-lived," he said.
"I'll say."
"We don't know how long-lived it will be. The only way to know if the duck is mortal is to stay alive until the duck dies."
"That's very scientific," I said. "But that duck could drastically alter the way this organization is run. Finally we'll have clear insight into upcoming events. And as far as we know, it will be an asset forever. Think of the good we'll accomplish!" 
He smiled, and then the door of the duck's room slammed open. Everyone's head jerked around in shock. 
Henderson stood in the doorway, his hands soaked in blood, feathers in his hair.
"This duck tells me nothing!" he shouted.

What got my attention, is right at the end of the book where loads of Q & A provided by the author; As in his thoughts, published reviews and all, there's a section titled 'Daniel O'Malley's playlist for The Rook'. It's talks about his chosen music playlist to some scenes in the book, or at least how it plays out in his head. Very nice! Plenty of Australian musicians; he mentioned Frou Frou, Big Pig, the Jezabels, Amiel, Bernard FanningMeredith Monk, Flanagan & AllenBear McCreary. Also mentioned is 'Strangers' by Portishead in their 1994 debut album 'Dummy', The author thought the song would match the scene of the ancient insane Graaf Gerd de Leeuwen threatening Myfanwy in his car parked outside a nightclub. I can imagine it so. Pretty cool!

He is centuries old, he is powerful, and you have been called to his limousine to receive an ultimatum. He reeks of authority and menace. He has no skin - he's a flayed human being in a tub of liquid. He's unstable. And he's Belgian. For such a situation, and for such a man, there is only one possible song. Its jarring transitions, its eerie echoes, the snatches of old-time tone, and that heartbeat-like pulse in the background. For the best effect, this should be played while you're underwater, with the lights out, and your eyes closed. If possible, throw some lake weed in there as well. After all, you want the full experience, don't you?

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