The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

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

Yes, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley starts with one of the tropes I hate: the heroine finds herself standing surrounded by bodies with no idea how she got there or even who she is. Normally, I would have immediately closed this book and moved on to something else, because amnesia had been used and abused so much already that it’s extremely difficult to do anything new and interesting with it, at least in my opinion.  Well, Mr. O’Malley managed to surprise me, because he pulled this off brilliantly. I’m glad I stuck with the book – I ended up absolutely loving it.

The world Daniel O’Malley describes is also not particularly innovative. I have seen most of that before. We have a secret organization called The Chequy that is responsible for protecting the world from supernatural treats and monsters (and people) with often rather terrifying powers. On, and the Chequy also makes sure that the general public remains blissfully unaware of said monsters.

This organization seeks out young people with supernatural abilities and recruits them, trains them and uses them for the good of Queen and country. Yes, the story takes place in Britain, but there is a kick-ass American agent in it as well.

So even though the world is not new, the presentation and the world building are excellent and compelling.

And the protagonist in his book deserves a special mention. Myfawny Thomas is what I would like to see more often in strong female characters. She is thrown into the deep end from the very beginning of the story, not knowing what’s going on or what she is capable of, the only guidance coming from the notes her former self left her. Yet, when she is presented with the choice to empty the contingency funds, grab her fake passport and make a run for it to start a new life somewhere far away, she chooses to stay instead. She decides to go back to work and try to impersonate the total stranger that her former self is to her now and to discover what had led to her current predicament. She does that even though both her new and her former selves strongly suspect that the assassination attempt she so narrowly survived was orchestrated by someone within the Chequy itself, someone she works with and probably passes in the hallways every day. That takes will power.

I also loved the transformation Myfawny undergoes throughout the book. We get glimpses of her former self in the letters she left to her new self and through the attitude of other people towards her. I like the fact that Myfawny doesn’t try to go back to being that person. She sets off to find her own path, to do things her own way, to try new things her former self would never have dared doing.

I think that’s why the amnesia trope works well here. Myfawny isn’t suddenly remembering “mad skills” she used to have before, she is acquiring and developing new skills instead. It is interesting to watch, and I can say that by the end of the book the new Myfawny and the old Myfawny are two completely different people.

I won’t discuss the plot here because I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that it had me hooked and turning the pages until the very end. We have an external treat that might or might not be more than it seems. We have prominent members of the Chequy with dark secrets. We have a possible mole that might or might not be behind the assassination attempt. And Myfawny finds herself in the middle of this while she tries to act like her formal self, do her job and make sure that nobody suspects that she doesn’t remember anything.

My only complaint about this book is that it’s over, and that Daniel O’Malley is taking his sweet time writing the next one. I want to know more! I want to see how Myfawny will adjust to her new life and read about her new adventures.

So if you are looking for a good read, buy The Rook, get comfortable and prepare to enjoy. You will not regret it.

The importance of secondary characters.


We all know that in order for the readers to want to finish our book, we need to create a compelling story. A major part of that is coming up with an engaging and fleshed out protagonist that they would want to spend time with. So as writers, we spend a lot of time creating a backstory for your main character. And since a protagonist needs a good antagonist to create conflict and drive the plot forward, we tend to spend just as much (if not more) time fleshing out our villain as well.

But I have noticed a tendency in the last few books I read which made me go back and look over my own stories with a critical eye. See those books I read were good. The protagonist was likable, the story interesting and fast paced, the villain sufficiently evil, but not insane enough to totally put you off, but something was lacking still. Then I realized what it was – those two were the only fully fleshed out characters in the whole story. The rest of the people the hero met on his journey or who traveled with him were just talking heads with no personality whatsoever. They were just there to toss a few lines of dialogue and help the protagonist along the way. Other than that, they were non-entities. And you know what? That made for a boring read.

Human beings are social animals. We can’t exist in social vacuum. Well, neither can our protagonists. They have a family, they have friends, they have co-workers, acquaintances, people they like, people they don’t like. Heck, even if they were raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves, there would still be certain wolves they would consider friends and others they would consider enemies.


I think the mistake we tend to make when we are planning out our stories is not focusing enough on those secondary characters. We spend so much effort on the backstories of our protagonists and antagonists that we tend to forget about the rest. We feel content to just put labels on them, like the best friend, the love interest, the slightly annoying but useful sidekick. What we forget is that in order to be interesting and to add depth to the story and the world-building, those secondary characters need to have lives of their own, independently of what our protagonist is doing. The best friend doesn’t cease to exist once he leaves the protagonist’s side. The love interest doesn’t just go into her room and stare at the wall for the rest of the day once the hero is off to save the world.

What I am trying to say is that the books that I read and absolutely loved had one thing in common – fleshed-out secondary characters. Sure, they were there to help the protagonist and drive the story forward, but I could feel like they had stories of their own as well. They had their own concerns and goals. They were living, breathing people, not cardboard cutouts. And you know what? It made the books more engaging, because I really cared about what happened not only to the main character, but also to all those other people as well. Heck, I wouldn’t mind reading a standalone book about some of them.

A few examples of good books with a plethora of secondary characters are Three parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (and the rest of the Expanse series), or all of the Malazan Books of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (starting with The Gardens of the Moon).

I think a good indicator of whether a book has good secondary characters is to see how much fanfiction is written about them. Because if readers empathize with your characters, they will want to know more about them, thus they will create their own stories for them. Just look at the hundreds of stories written about secondary characters from the Harry Potter books.

I know it’s a lot of work to plan out and write backstories for often a large number of characters, but the reward for it is well worth it, in my opinion. First of all, your world will feel more “lived in” if people inhabiting it are tridimensional. Secondly, it gives your protagonist more inner depth if he or she has to interact with people who have their own opinions and are not afraid to disagree with him / her. And finally, you never know when you might fall in love with one of the “sidekicks” you created and make him the hero of your next story.

Writing is a life-long journey

writing - lifelong journey

Let me start this post with a personal anecdote. I have a full-time job and a family, which doesn’t leave much time for writing. In the past year, I had slowly taught myself to write whenever I had a few spare minutes, but I do the bulk of my writing at night before bed and during lunch. So I’m pretty used to showing up at restaurants with a notebook or a printout and a pen, and usually people don’t pay much attention to the crazy lady in the corner boot mumbling to herself and scribbling furiously in a notebook.

But last week I had an interesting encounter which made me think about what I am, what I do and where I go from here.

I had a “writing lunch” at Applebee’s last week when the waitress asked me what I was doing. I told her I was writing a short story. She seemed genuinely interested and asked if I had anything published.

Got anything published

This is when the first shift in perception happened. See, up until May this year, I had been a pre-published or aspiring author. But then my short story, A Small Detour, got accepted and published in this anthology. If you are interested, you can read my post about this exciting event.

So when asked about published work, I could legitimately answer, “Well, yes, I have a short story on amazon,” and give her the name of the anthology. And then something extraordinary happened: the waitress came back with her Kindle and made me input the name of the anthology for her. And then she bought the book!

Of Dragons and Magic

And I realized something important – I was actually a published author, even if all I had published so far was a short story. When I began my writing journey last October, I hadn’t even dreamed to be able to achieve that within a year.

This also made me think about why I do this. I mean, when I started the first draft of my novel Of Broken Things, getting something published had been the sum of my ambition. Ten months into the journey, I realize that for me it’s a life-long commitment. Money is not the end goal (though it would sure be nice to earn some) and neither is fame. My goal is to create compelling stories that people would want to read, because seeing the excitement in the waitress’s eyes when she said she couldn’t wait to read the anthology was the best reward I could ask for. She would spend a few hours blissfully lost in the wonderful worlds the authors have created, and one of them was mine.

So where do I go from here? Well, I continue writing of course, because the more I write, the more ideas pop into my head waiting to be put into stories.

I’m halfway through the first major edit of my novel Of Broken Things. I have the ghost of an idea along with most of the characters for my NaNo 2014 project.

I’m editing a novelette I had written back in May, and I have another unrelated short story to edit as well.

I have finished a new short story set in the same world as A Small Detour and about the same characters, and I have ideas for at least three more stories in this world. Once I finish them all, I am considering self-publishing them as a series. More about that in future posts.

I also want to dust off a project I had started a couple years ago. Back then I was just dabbling in writing; I had no idea that writing was hard work, and that first drafts always sucked, and that you had to push through it all, good day or bad day, to get to the end. I got frustrated because what had seemed so awesome in my head turned out total crap on paper and abandoned the project. But the story had potential and I love the characters, so I want to give it another chance.

Oh, and did I mention the dozens of half-baked ideas clamoring in my head and which might or might not turn into full-fledged stories?


So all is well in my world: I am a published author, I am still in love with what I do and I have plenty of ideas to last me for a while!

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Sometimes, you stumbled upon a book that resonates with you on a deeper than usual level. Maybe you had a similar idea banging around your head for a while, or maybe some of your inner voices speak in voiced strangely reminiscent of the characters in that book. Or just maybe you really get the world the author is describing. In any case, it makes reading that particular book an absolute joy.

It happened to me before with Leviathan Wakes where I just fell head first in to the world and in love with the characters. You can find my review of it here. And it happened again with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.

I knew I would love this book as soon as I read the blurb in the back. A world where craftsmen and women have almost godlike powers? Where gods walk the earth and can be killed and brought back to life? A weird steampunk-ish technology mixed with magic? Heck yeah!

So I downloaded a free sample from amazon and was immediately hooked. Sure, the world is wonderfully weird and complex, but the characters are what really appealed to me. They are different and wonderfully complex.

I loved Tara, the young craftswoman. She has a very strong personality and doesn’t take crap from anybody. She is also new to the Craft and not as ruthless and her older peers. She still has some humanity left in her. This makes her even more endearing, because she has to make some hard choices in this book between her obligations to her employers and her obligations to her new-found friends. Those choices don’t come easy, and I could really feel how much they cost her.

And let’s talk about Abelard! Great job creating this one, Mr. Gladstone, I am really envious. This seemingly lost and naïve acolyte who is chain smoking and dealing with a crisis of faith turns out to have immeasurable hidden reserves and a will of steel. He ends up saving the day and doesn’t ask for anything in return, apart from to be left alone to worship his god in peace.

I was found of the other characters as well, even if those two definitely stole the limelight. The story itself is also deliciously complex and engaging. I loved the fact that underneath it all, it was ultimately a story about love and sacrifice and about the lengths even a god would go to save the one he loves.

So my advice to you is to go pick up Three Parts Dead. You will not regret it. You will spend a day or two in a wonderfully bizarre world with engaging characters. And if you want to return to that world, Mr. Gladsone has two more books out. I’m about to start the next one, Two Serpents Rise.