Khanh the Killjoy

I like this game

The Rook  - Daniel O'Malley
This is ridiculous, she thought. I’m possessed of terrifying powers. Why am I relying on a ridiculous little gun that I picked because I thought it was cute? I don’t need this thing. She threw it contemptuously over her shoulder.

There’s something foul wandering the underground tunnels beneath my office, something that’s invisible to my vaunted powers.


Where’s my gun?

This book is X-Men meets X-Files meets The Bourne Identity meets Johnny English. And that may sound like a clusterfuck to end all clusterfucks, but somehow it works, or maybe my mind is just trying to make it better than it is because I'm coming off a massive chain of horrible books. Whatever. I loved it.

If this book were made into a movie, I can totally see Tina Fey in the lead role.

The good:

- Witty, dry, humorous writing
- A female assassin/secret agent not afraid to kill- A fun and interesting secret agency, think "paranormal MI5"
- A well-executed amnesia premise
- A racially diverse and fun suporting cast of characters

The not so good:

- Questionable character development
- The length: it's a good book, but it could stand to be cut by a good 100 pages
- The infodump: It's a fun infodump, but it's still an infodump

The Summary:

Dear You,
The body you are wearing used to be mine.

A woman stood shivering in the rain, surrounded by a circle of dead bodies. She has no idea who she is. A letter inside her pocket informed her that she is a Myfanwy Thomas, pronounced miff-UN-nee. The letter gives her instructions, where to go, what to do. She checks herself into a hotel, as instructed, finds more letters. The next morning, she leaves the hotel, and is promptly attacked by four people, one of them the receptionist.

Myfanwy's reaction is a little unexpected. She almost kills them.

When she opened her eyes and took a breath, she realized that there was no one holding her. Instead, the four people were lying on the ground, twitching uncontrollably.


These letters will continue for the rest of the book. They tell Myfanwy who she was, how she grew up, most importantly, they tell her that Myfanwy now works for a secret agency known as the Checquy Group. They've been in existence for hundreds of years, and Myfanwy is a Rook. One of the highest ranking members of the group. Once you're in the Checquy Group, you don't get out.

I’ve only ever heard of three people who tried to leave the Checquy, and I know the history inside and out.
The first was a powered individual called Brennan the Intransigent who made a break for it in 1679. He was crucified on the cliffs of Dover.
The second was a soldier in 1802. He was carefully brought back to the Checquy stronghold and then buried alive in his village’s graveyard.
The third was a woman who could grow tentacles out of her back and exuded some sort of alarming toxin through her fingertips. Her stuffed body is currently displayed above the mantelpiece in one of the London offices.

The Checquy Agency employs normal, loyal people, but the epistle of its powers lies in those with special powers, such as Myfanwy.

I gained the power to touch people and possess instant control of their bodies. I could make them move however I pleased. I could read their physical condition, detect pregnancy, cancer, a full bladder.

Only, instead of being a super secret special agent, the old Myfanwy appears to be nothing more than a "glorified paper pusher," albeit a very powerful one. So what happened? How did she lose her memories? Why did the old Myfanwy plan so carefully for such a scenario?

Lots of questions. Few answers. But for now, Myfanwy's still got a job to go to. She has to step into her former life without a beat, while avoiding her colleague's questions.

“Yes?” said Myfanwy. What, do these guys keep tabs on my comings and goings? “Well, I...had an appointment.” They regarded her with expectant eyes, and she was suddenly filled with a desire to shake up those proprietary stares. “A gynecologist appointment.” She smiled triumphantly at the twins. “To have my vagina checked.”

And it has to be confessed that Myfanwy isn't altogether convincing at times.

“I’m sorry, Rook Thomas, but your car is here,” she said.
“My car?” Myfanwy said.
“It’s time for your dinner with Lady Farrier.”
“Oh, crap,” she sighed, then noticed Clovis’s shocked expression. “I mean, oh, good, this should be delightful.”

There's a lot of weird crap thrown at her, including horrifying colleagues who wouldn't hesitate to literally rip someone's face off, and acquaintances who have been alive for thousands of years.

“… past century she is notable for having kneed Joseph Stalin in the groin during a drinks reception, and she played a large part in the South African diamond industry,” Ingrid went on. “She also cured one member of our royal family of cancer in the 1950s, and infected another with syphilis in the 1960s.”

On her quest to find the truth about her memory loss, Myfanwy will face terrifying danger, manipulative colleagues, plagues, vampires, werewolves, mold monsters, and company parties.

I can’t wear this!” Myfanwy exclaimed in horror.
“You can’t wear that!” the housekeeper exclaimed.
“It’s like all the material that’s supposed to be on top migrated to the bottom,” said Val.
Any wedding in which this dress appeared on the bride would have to be pretty damn open-minded, thought Myfanwy. And might well incorporate the honeymoon on the altar.

The Setting: This book is an infodump. I usually hate infodumping, but it was done exceedingly well in this book. Through a series of letters, the old Myfanwy explained the inner workings, the history, and the stories surrounding the infernal Checquy Agency. It's a pretty typical paranormal agency, but it is so well-presented, from the internal politics, to the ranking, to the little-known details only an insider would know. It's an old agency, it is resistant to change. Paranormal or not, some things remain the same.

Occasionally, someone will point out these flaws and attempt to institute a change, but that person is slapped down. The reasons for this down-slappage are:

If you’re in the Court, you have an impressive title, and you don’t want to change it for something generic.


It’s supposed to remind us of the importance of strategy and of rank.

It’s cool.

The premise of the superpowers are similar to that of the X-Men. While most of them lack the extent of the full mutant appearance, the players within the Checquy Agency are quite dangerous and abnormal. Like the fabulously Children-of-the-Corn Rook Gestalt.

Three boys and one girl. Two of the boys were identical. That’s not the weirdest thing, however. The weirdest thing was that when all four pairs of eyes opened, only one mind was looking out from behind them. This was Gestalt.

Gestalt is kind of disconcerting, because it/he/she/they is/are spread over four bodies.

f you wanted people with freakishly awesome powers who aren't afraid to use said power to maim, torture, and kill, you won't do much better than this book.


The good:

- She is hilariously average. She is quite plain in appearance (and no, nobody falls in love with her), her body is nothing special. She has terrible taste in clothing. She likes bunnies. She loves Toblerone chocolate. She has a tendency to stumble. While the old Myfanwy was a wallflower, the new Myfanwy is more apt to put her foot in her mouth, with a preference to run and hide rather than do anything heroic. But she can't, because she's a powerful person without being able to remember it. Crap.

She is jealous sometimes while never, ever slut shaming or hating another female for her appearance. In fact, one of the women with whom she works.

Please let her have slept her way to the top, thought Myfanwy. No one deserves to be this beautiful and clever too.

Turns out to be not only beautiful, but awesome, nice, and a great friend.

- She is super super super deadly, and is kind of a special snowflake at times.

My God, you were the most exciting find in decades! All of us knew about your potential. The tutors at the Estate were babbling about you to everyone!”

But it doesn't piss me off because she doesn't really give a fuck. The old Myfanwy is scared, she chokes, she hates using her powers to harm. The new Myfanwy doesn't have those reservations, but she's still not inclined to get into dangerous situations because 1. She doesn't want to, and 2. She really doesn't have a clue what's going on most of the time.

- Blending in: When you're an amnesiac, trying to get back into the swing of things at your paranormal MI5 workplace is kind of hard, especially when you have multiple-body-psychic-colleagues. I mean, what are you supposed to do when they're mentally killing something in front of you?

Finally, after a high-pitched kiYAA!, they settled back, breathing heavily, and explained that Eliza had just broken the neck of the leader of the antler cult, and that the complex was secured.
“Wow. Great,” said Myfanwy. “Nicely done.”
“Hmm,” said Tidy Twin absently. “Eliza has blood on her boots.”
“That’s lovely, Gestalt,” Myfanwy said, trying to keep her cool. “More coffee? Or more orange juice? No? Perhaps I could have Ingrid fetch you a couple of moist towelettes.”

The Not-So-Good: Really, there's only one thing. Her personality change. She has amnesia, and as mentioned, Myfanwy has trouble trying to get back into things and appearing normal. She's clumsy, but sometimes, she is far, far too competent and take-charge very early on when she largely hasn't a fucking clue of what's going on. Like during her first meeting, when things get out of hand, Myfanwy decides to take charge.

“Gentlemen!” she finally shouted, and her voice cut through the noise like a scythe through a poodle. There was dead silence, and everyone stared at her, stunned. “You all need to shut up and stay focused on the task at hand. Dr. Crisp, if you will turn your eyes back toward the interrogation, I wonder if you could revive the subject and question him.”

This is entirely too confident, too much for me to believe. I can understand a personality change, but I can't accept that Myfanwy can be so utterly silly and incompetent-sounding on one page, while being competely take-charge in the next.

The Writing:

It was an old room in an old building and was decorated in a very specific style that showed the decorators were lacking both imagination and a second X chromosome.

It's hilarious, but it's not like ha-ha hilarious. The author is American, but he does a damn fine job of replicating dry, deprecating British wit.