Written by Daniel O’Malley, an Australian author abroad, The Rook is an interesting take on the superpower genre. Described as Bourne Identity meets X-Men, the series follows Myfanwy Thomas as she comes to terms with a new life, after having her memory and identity wiped. Through letters and paperwork left behind by her predecessor, she discovers a supernatural bureaucracy currently working the London underground, and globally, to ensure the survival of Queen and Country.
The story structure was refreshing, combining epistolary elements through letters and documentation, to aid in the telling of past events. They held their own, usually in separate chapters. The novel almost entirely focuses on Thomas, as she uncovers the plot against her, and comes to terms with her latent abilities. With so many novels, and television out there which focuses on the action-packed adventures of empowered people, this was an interesting take on the administration those people might undertake.
Thomas’ character is a Rook, considered a domestic administrator to all supernatural occurrences that happen on British soil. Her counterpart is Gestalt, a curious character which holds a hive mind among four siblings, he deals with occurrences that threaten the British Isles externally. There is always an administrator to the secret agent, and which filters throughout the organisation known as Checquy.
There are a lot of moments within this book which are enthralling, with strong narrative technique and character development. Thomas is very different to who she is currently, to the person who wrote the notes, and it’s comedic in how the rest of the world now has to navigate the new Thomas. O’Malley has injected a beautiful balance of humour, sophistication, and sassiness into his writing style which allows the novel to hover between the worlds of political espionage, and parody — and the climax is to die for.
The Independent Press Co. rates Daniel O’Malley’s “The Rook” ★★★★★
In 2017 Starz developed a miniseries adaptation of The Rook which aired July 2019 and consists of eight episodes. Already an ambitious project, the series took certain liberties in the storytelling which drastically deviated from the source material. This included the removal of the notes and narration of the previous Thomas, the removal of certain characters – or the amalgamation of them – and felt the need to highly embed science fiction tropes into the series.
Critics’ consensus noted, “The Rook’s dour tone and convoluted machinations overshadow its intriguing premise.” With Rotten Tomatoes giving the series an overall 5.8/10. As someone who greatly enjoyed the book, and even the sequel Stiletto, this was a generous rating. Understanding that some changes are required for the purpose of adaptations in general, it was poorly executed and perhaps too much of the original charm of the series was lost due to production politics.
The series is visually stunning, and the acting is strong and engaging. However, to see it as part of the The Rook universe is a strain for any fan of the book — needing to saying “inspired by” rather than “based on”. Whilst reading the book took no time at all, more energy was required to sit through the series, with very little fulfilment by the end. Unfortunately, The Rook has not been renewed for a second season, so it is unfortunate that any growth could have happened.
The Independent Press Co. rates Starz The Rook a ★★☆☆☆
by JOSHUA HALL HAINES
Editor-in-Chief at The Independent Press Co.