Title: The Rook
Author: Daniel O’Malley
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Unabridged Length: 17 hrs 51 mins
A refreshingly unique story with an unexpected sense of humor, The Rook was an extremely enjoyable listen. Although I’ve found Susan Duerden’s narrations challenging in light of my voice/delivery preferences, she won me over with this one and gave an excellent performance.
Summary from Goodreads
“Myfanwy Thomas awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, her only hope of survival is to trust the instructions left in her pocket by her former self. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization and this person wants her dead.
As Myfanwy battles to save herself, she encounters a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and an unimaginably vast conspiracy.”
This was such a refreshing book. I found the plot and characters unique and engaging and the humor was an unexpected treat. There were almost two stories being told: that of the amnesiac Myfanwy and how she was maneuvering through her own life with absolutely no idea of what to do (except for the background info in a binder left her by her former self) and flashback scenes to Myfanwy’s past. Those flashbacks were usually in the form of information contained in letters written by pre-memory loss Myfanwy and the author nicely skirts turning them into info-dumps by making them almost their own story-line. While the transitions between the two worked very well for the first half of the book, they seemed to lose some of their cohesion later in the story. There certainly weren’t any whiplash moments of “Wha…? How is that relevant?” It’s just that I found it slightly harder to transition later in the audio.
The two iterations of Myfanwy have different personalities and as the amnesiac version begins to get her feet under her and starts to assert herself I enjoyed witnessing her character arc, especially as I could contrast it with the more timid Myfanwy in the flashback scenes. The world-building of this alternate England is smoothly accomplished and the supernatural abilities within the super-secret government group known as the Chequy (and I’m glad I had the audio version to pronounce that and other names for me) are not necessarily your standard superhero abilities and sometimes they’re just downright amusing. The structure of the Chequy and the intricacies of how it works unfolded in a pretty organic manner as Myfanwy began trying to uncover who was responsible for her loss of memory.
In terms of both the story-telling (text) and the narration (audio), I was sucked into the moment-by-moment discovery of the character. The pacing was perfect to maintain my interest (other than a brief stutter near the end), the writing is amusing, and the story is original. I recommend this audiobook.
I’ll start by making it clear that I have a personal bias against narrations or voices that are breathy or sometimes sound as if they aren’t fully supported. It’s strictly a matter of taste of course, and while it has nothing to do with the ability of the narrator to deliver all the performance aspects that can pull you into a story, it’s been a barrier for me in the past with this narrator. Wow, what a difference a book can make and I’m glad I didn’t let that chase me away from this audio.
It took me a little bit to get into this audiobook – both as I grew accustomed to the narration and as I waited to be grounded in the story as events started to unfold – but when I did I was completely immersed. As a first person narration, Susan Duerden’s voice seemed to effortlessly encapsulate Myfanwy’s personality (er, both of them) – sounding uncertain and timid at times and ratcheting up in confidence as amnesiac Myfanwy began to settle into her strange life. The cast of supporting characters were fully voiced and their personalities were vibrantly depicted by the pitch/tone/cadence/accent choices made for each.
There’s a consistent slide/drop-off at the end of many sentences that I didn’t like but that ended up being a minor issue. Pacing, emphasis, individualizing characters’ perspectives, and reactive delivery of dialogue were all very well-performed. The humor that permeates the book was particularly well done. It was never over-emphasized and often was given a dry tone that made me laugh out loud several times. Overall, this was an extremely enjoyable performance.