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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.

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

Examples of:

  • 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.
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  • Ancient Conspiracy: Inverted in that the protagonist actually works for the conspiracy from the start
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 fro Myfanwy to go instead and receive a vital clue to the conspiracy.
  • Chrome Champion: Shantay can do this partially or over her entire body.
  • 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.
  • Combat Tentacles: The abomination in Reading.
  • The Confidant: Ingrid, Myfanwy's secretary who knew from the beginning about the amnesia
  • 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.
  • Dragon Rider: Neil 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 less powered individuals, and less power outbreaks, going on there.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: A ton. One that comes to mind is Sir Wattleman assasinating a bunch of Nazis while he was naked.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Getsalt does have a reason for it though, as a baby whose parents are both part of Getsalt will itself also be part of Getsalt, making Getsalt potentially immortal.
  • Stock Superpowers: sometimes, but other powers are extremely wild and creative. Most are incredibly deadly, weird, and/or hard to typecast.
  • 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.
  • Teleportation: how the American Bishops arrive in England.
  • 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.


Example of: