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Literature / The Rook

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A 2012 novel by Daniel O'Malley.

Myfanwy Thomas II wakes up in the rain with no memory and no idea how she managed to knock out a bunch of bad guys wearing latex gloves. Fortunately for her, she checks her pockets and finds the first and second of many Notes to Herself, written before the memory loss. Myfanwy the original knew that she was going to lose her memory. Since she's the ultimate contingency planner, she wrote not only many notes To Self, but entire dossiers of everything and everyone at the Checquy, the secret supernatural organization dedicated to saving people from unpleasant manifestations in Britain. And since Myfanwy's in the ruling Court, she'll need to step in and do her job as if nothing ever happened. While trying to find out who sucked her memories. Because thanks to the psychics, she knows it's one of her fellow Court members...


Adding to the fun, the Grafters, the Checquy's greatest enemy, have returned. They're a bunch of twisted Belgian fleshcrafters that the Checquy only barely managed to defeat centuries ago... and now they're bloody everywhere.

It has a sequel, Stiletto.

In 2017 a TV series adaptation was announced by the Starz cable network and 2019, The Rook premiered. It only had one season, after which it was cancelled.

Not to be Confused with Rook, a post-apocalyptic novel by Sharon Cameron.


Examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Joshua Eckhart's record notes that his own parents were petty crooks who were so neglectful of Eckhart that he was basically feral when he was taken from them by social services as a child.
  • Academy of Evil: Not the Estate, but Camp Caius which was secretly created by Granchester and the Grafters
  • Affably Evil: Despite a century of loyal service, members of the Checquy seem to fear that Alrich's affableness is masking a more patient evil. People tend to treat him with the same kind of caution and respect one would an unpinned grenade.
    • Graf Gerd De Leeuwen attempts this when first meeting Myfanwy, but can barely make it two sentences without screaming in utter rage.
  • The Alcatraz: Gallows keep, where prisoners with powers are kept and tortured such as Gestalt
  • Amnesia Danger: Averted since Myfanwy's power erupts by default if she's attacked/put in enough pain.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Inverted in that the protagonist actually works for the conspiracy from the start
  • Anyone Can Die: And many, many people do. Including Myfanwy I - erasing her memory effectively creates an entirely new personality, and there's no way to regain what was lost.
  • Badass Bookworm and Badass Bureaucrat: Myfanwy was promoted to the Court almost entirely because of her amazing competence at getting things done. She can also kick ass if threatened.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Combined with Finger in the Mail, when someone inexplicably sends Myfanwy I a human heart in the mail. It's actually a way for one of the leading Grafters to smuggle himself past the Checquey's defences.
  • Berserk Button: Do NOT threaten Myfanwy's family.
  • Best Woman: A non-wedding version of this is mentioned in Myfanwy's notes on the history of the Checquy; due to the habit of naming the main leaders of the Checquy "Lord" and "Lady", at one point the only valid candidate for the title of "Lady" was a six-foot-tall mountain of a man with a thick red beard who stubbornly held onto his position even when he had the chance to become the new Lord instead, remaining the Lady until his death.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Myfanwy I may have been meek, but minus her past and inhibitions, Myfanwy II ain't afraid to unleash the whup-ass.
  • Biomanipulation: Myfanwy's power. She's able to use it in a variety of ways and also Myfanwy I was too insecure to do so, Myfanwy II is more than eager to put in practice.
  • Blessed with Suck: It's surprising that more of the Checquy don't express this belief, as some of them possess such 'powers' as her body being cleanly divided into two pieces that are constantly four inches apart and apparently held together by electromagnetism, rendering it impossible for her to go out unless wearing a burkha or equivalent full-body clothing.
  • Body Horror: The Grafters, who rearrange organs, bones, and bodies as they see fit, creating terrifying spies and soldiers.
  • Buffy Speak: Invoked by Myfanwy as she tries to fit in at work after losing her memory.
  • The Casanova: Grantchester. Note the pornographic decorating style at the Rookery.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Myfanwy's epinephrine pen. In the beginning, we learn that Myfanwy is allergic to bees and carries an epipen everywhere. At the end, she uses it to kill Norman before he can wipe her mind again.
  • Chess Motifs: Pawns are powered indivduals that don't hold Court office. The Court offices are Rooks, Chevaliers (Knights), and Bishops. King and Queen had to be changed to "Lord and Lady" so as not to offend the actual royalty. Myfanwy I has a rant about how foolish this is — the Bishops aren't actually ecclesiastical, sometimes the Lord or Lady ends up being the wrong gender because that's just who the Checquy need filling the role, and in general having two people in each job is a recipe for coordination problems. This actually ends up working in Myfanwy's favour later; the Grafters were attempting to pass a message on to Gestalt by setting up a situation and issuing a request for 'the Rook', assuming that Gestalt would respond, only for Myfanwy to go instead and receive a vital clue to the conspiracy.
  • Chrome Champion: Shantay can do this partially or over her entire body.
  • Cloning Blues: Brought up but subverted; the Grafters can create clones, but it requires long-term investment to create an adult clone that is capable of doing anything more than sitting around and blinking, and generally the Grafters do not use clones as anything more than back-ups that they can transfer their minds into when their current bodies are damaged rather than creating multiple versions of one person (the lead Grafter explicitly muses that anyone who would want multiple copies of themselves around is not likely to be worth keeping around even as one person).
  • Co-Dragons: Technically Gestalt, who acts as the brawn to Granchester's brain.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Checquy gets creative with anyone who runs away or commits treason. Nastily so (apparently at one point the procedure for dealing with traitors involved narwhal ivory and trained lynxes before culminating in the traitor being ritually trampled to death by the population of the village of Avebury, although Myfanwy muses that would be harder to arrange these days).
  • Combat Tentacles: The abomination in Reading.
  • The Confidant: Ingrid, Myfanwy's secretary, who knew from the beginning about the amnesia and kept quiet in gratitude of Thomas's past kindness and recognition that Myfanwy is still a good person.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Myfanwy I. The only reason Myfanwy II gets anywhere is that she wakes up with notes from Myfanwy I in her pockets (they're in all her jacket pockets, just in case), and later gets access to a safe full of information she needs to do her job.
  • Creepy Twins: Two of Gestalt's bodies are twins, and all four actually five of them can move and speak in unison, which everyone finds unnerving.
  • Departmentof Redundancy Department: "The Scientific Brotherhood of Scientists", formally known as the Wetenschappelijk Broederschap van Natuurkundigen (aka the Grafters.)
    • Google translate has it as the scientific fraternity of physicists.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Sections not from Myfanwy or Odette's point of view are highly likely to be this, as well as snapshots of how the Chequy works beyond Myfanwy's now-limited recollection. It works.
  • Disability Immunity: In a sense; Myfanwy's complete loss of memory makes her immune to an attack by an entity that makes her experience the sensory input of herself and several others, as her personally limited experiences following her amnesia let her focus on the events that she knows are hers and ignore the rest.
  • Dragon Rider: Noel Bitner thinks he's one because he Speaks Fluent Animal. Seems to be a giant Take That! to certain dragon-themed works of fiction.
  • Dream Walker: The ability of Lady Farrier; she observes and talks with Myfanwy this way for a month as a child before having her recruited to the Checquy and brought to the Estate.
  • Extra-ore-dinary: Shantay's power, which allows her to create armor and weapons from her body. Also Chevalier Joshua Eckhart, who can manipulate metal (although it is clearly noted that this is not magnetic as he can only shape metal rather than control it). Invoked in Stiletto as it is noted that the new Chevalier has the ability to turn wood into a substance as hard as titanium.
  • Extranormal Institute: the Estate, where the Checquy sends and trains children with abilities.
  • Extra-Strength Masquerade: Rigorously enforced, with many contingencies. They're not allowed to use terrorism as an excuse, though. Apparently it causes even more headaches.
  • Eye Scream: In Stilletto, the Antagonist Grafters release a toxic gas that causes many of those exposed to it to suffer varying levels of blindness, to the point that the Grafters allied with the Checquy discreetly give many of the more serious suffers full eye transplants, and Odette has to extract fluid from her own eye to use it to prevent Felicity being permanently blinded from the same attack.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Gestalt and Grantchester, as well as a number of Retainers.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Dragons, vampires, talking trees, talking mice, 3500 year old women, and an oracular duck are examples of some of the more mundane things the Checquy has to deal with on a daily basis. No (human) psychics, however— Myfanwy I mentions that one benefit of precognition is most people with it automatically avoid getting mixed up in paranormal activity altogether.
  • A Father to His Men: As one of the oldest Checquy recruits since he only manifested his abilities when he was an adult, Joshua Eckhart fell into this role when he was training at the Estate, Myfanwy musing that she might have had an easier time at the Estate herself if he'd been there to help bring her out.
  • Femininity Failure: Myfanwy is definitely no fashion expert and has no idea what to do with a baby. She also is a virgin.
  • Flying Brick: Monica Jarvis-Reed, who takes out a dragon by dropping from four miles up. And also takes out Granchester.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Alrich did one when he joined the Checquy. Also Ernst, and presumably the Grafters at the end of the book; Stilletto focuses on the challenges the Grafters face as they attempt to integrate with the Checquy.
  • Hive Mind: Gestalt is quadruplets (identical twin boys, another boy and a girl) and also an incestous baby who have one overall mind running all the bodies.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Grafters often appear as this on the few occasions they bother to look human.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Ingrid. Rook Thomas/Myfanwy I was one before the identity loss.
  • I am a Humanitarian: Van Syke. However, it is not clear if being a Grafter turned him into one, or if he picked up that habit beforehand.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Well, you try figuring out how to refer to Gestalt...
  • Iron Lady: Lady Farrier, one of the co-heads of the Checquy. Shantay, literally.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Rupert Henderson was a government official with some knowledge of the supernatural but was completely ignorant of the true nature of the Checquy, and ended up killing the oracular duck because he never bothered to ask how the duck 'worked'.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Bronwyn, who finds Myfanwy through tax records. Some skills run in the family, apparently.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: The Grafter's ability to shape flesh. Also moderately common among the Checquy.
  • Magical Native American: Played straight. America has their own Checquy (called the Croatoan), but Native Americans put enough protections on the land that there are fewer powered individuals born there, and fewer power outbreaks.
  • Man of Kryptonite: Myfanwy's power is being able to manipulate other bodies. The Grafters rely exclusively on biotech. Do the math.
  • Meaningful Name: 'Gestalt': two or more parts that are so integrated together that we perceive them as one object.
  • The Mole: Tons and tons of people, most notably Goblet, Gestalt, and Grantchester.
  • Multipurpose Tongue: Norman's can suck out your memories.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: While the villains obviously couldn't have known about Myfanwy's warnings of the future, erasing her mind would have still left her a not-inconsiderable threat, as her loss of memory basically helped her get over the psychological issues that limited her willingness to use her powers while leaving her with at least subconscious experience of how to use them.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Sir Wattleman, who can survive being shot in the head, and Monica Jarvis-Reed, who can survive a plunge from the upper atmosphere.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: As far as Myfanwy knows, her name is said to rhyme with "Tiffany." This is backed up by the matron of the Estate. When she meets Bronwyn it turns out she's been saying it wrong.
  • Noodle Incident: A ton. One that comes to mind is Sir Wattleman assasinating a bunch of Nazis while he was naked.
  • Organization with Unlimited Funding: The Checquy and its American counterpart, the Croatoan.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Like "hatch out of eggs" different and their hair color changes depending on feeding status. But otherwise, we never find out much about them.
  • Perspective Flip: The second book offers one by having a Grafter protagonist, recounting the history of Grafters and their first encounter with the Checquys. It turns out that they were horrified by this band of superpowered-beings that defy the laws of nature and science.
  • The Peter Principle: In a sense; despite Alrich having been with the Court for over a century, there is an apparently unspoken acknowledgement that he will never rise beyond his current rank of Bishop.
  • Plucky Office Girl: Presumably Myfanwy was one before her promotion, but she's kind of treated like one still before her memory loss.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Parodied. Thomas says that the Checquy has to deal with many false prophesies, "that inevitably rhyme but don't scan."
  • Psychic Powers: Supposedly very rare in this world, but Myfanwy I meets several psychics, one Oracular Urchin, and one oracular duck. She also notes that true psychics tend to be mostly unaware of their powers and also unconsciously able to stay under the Checquy's radar.
  • Psychic Surgery: Myfwanwy's power is to be able to manipulate other people's bodies, usually in unpleasant ways such as The Paralyzer.
  • Puberty Superpower: Averted. Some folks are born with powers, but people can come into them at any age, even in middle adulthood.
  • Quest for Identity: Myfanwy wakes up surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves and no memory.
  • Red Shirts / Red Shirt Army: Your average Checquy soldier is said to be better than any of the world's conventional special forces. Yet, they die quickly and often.
  • The Reliable One: Ingrid, Myfanwy's hypercompetent secretary. Which is impressive given that Myfanwy I herself was this as well.
  • Rule of Three: The oracular duck will apparently only answer three questions from any individual, and it is only able to answer in terms of 'Yes' or 'No'.
  • Running Gag: In Stiletto, Odette's outfits keep getting destroyed, to her great dismay.
  • Sanity Slippage: The highest-level Grafters are starting to become a little... odd in the head. For example, one of them develops a compulsion to start cutting off his toes. They grow back, of course, but it's still worrying.
  • Screw Yourself: Gestalt again. Gestalt does have a reason for it though, as a baby whose parents are both part of Gestalt will itself also be part of Gestalt, making Gestalt potentially immortal.
  • Shout-Out: A few of these can be found in Stiletto;
    • In the early nineteenth century, five Grafter Chimeras were released into the Arctic to hunt down a man who had used Grafter resources and galvanic energy to create a new being (Frankenstein).
    • Scientific experiments led to an island being populated by mutated animals (The Island of Doctor Moreau).
    • During the early twentieth century, some grafters spent time in a club whose members included a stranger none of them could identify who kept muttering about a beekeeper and the dynamics of a rock (clearly intended to be Professor Moriarty, the arch-enemy of Sherlock Holmes).
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Myfanwy Thomas and her sister Bronwyn may be named after the daughters of writers Edward and Helen Thomas, (Rachel Mary) Bronwen and (Helen Elizabeth) Myfanwy.
    • Daniel O'Malley has said that Myfanwy and Bronwyn were named after two of his old neighbors, so this may be a case of Tuckerization.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Noel Bitner spent a great deal of time tracing the location of a dragon egg, to the point that he started insisting that he be referred to as 'Adept Bitner' (a title that didn't actually exist) and was certain that he could use his animal communication abilities to bond with the wild dragon once it hatched, only for the dragon to bite his head off and prove that he was completely wrong about everything.
  • Superhero School: Essentially the Estate
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Lady Farrier's power. Her powers allow her to enter dreams of others and having completely secret meetings there. This is also why she is the only Checquy to find out early on about Myfanwy's amnesia.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The second book describe more the Grafter along these lines (compared above to the Humanoid Abomination). Most of them belongs to the continental Europe elite. They are highly clever, eternally young, with perfect enhanced bodies. They also use a lot their abilities for fun, science or art in addition to the more familiar fighting aspects. It offers a deep contrast to the highly bureaucratic, hierarchical and military Checquy.
  • Theory Tunnelvision: Graf Gerd De Leeuwen is so fixated on the idea that the Checquy have his missing brother in custody that he ignores Myfanwy's protests that they don't actually know where his brother is (as it turns out, the Graf was right, but even the Checquy didn't know that they had him.
  • Teleportation: How the American Bishops arrive in England.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Discounting the explicit traitors, Alrich is basically this to the rest of the Court, with other characters half-seriously observing that they may ask him to eat people they find annoying and an unspoken agreement that he will never rise beyond his current rank of Bishop despite having been in the Court for over a century.
  • Took a Level in Badass: From the perspective of the Checquy, Myfanwy does this after her amnesia, as her lost memory leaves her with an instinctive knowledge of her powers without her previous self's psychological hang-ups.
  • Undying Loyalty: Played straight and averted with the Pawns and Retainers. Most Pawns are loyal. But Retainers, who do not have extranormal powers, are treated as lesser and can never rise to the ranks of the Court. The Grafters use the resentment this creates to subvert many of the Retainers, which is why Myfanwy I and II want to reform the system.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Heretic Gubbins
  • Whodunnit to Me?: Essentially Myfanwy II's goal once she takes up Myfanwy I's life is to work out who ordered the attack that essentially 'killed' her predecessor.