Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

It's dark, it's raining, and Myfanwy Thomas is surrounded by dead bodies -- and that's just the beginning

 

The Rook
by Daniel O’Malley
Back Bay Books
Myfanwy Thomas comes to consciousness in a park, at night, surrounded by dead bodies. She has no memories. She is guided to relative safety by notes she finds in her pockets and then has to make a choice that will change the trajectory of her life’s path. She finds out she is a high-level agent in a secret agency that tries to manage the supernatural events that pop up in the world, and as she attempts to learn on the fly without anyone the wiser about her memory loss, she also is attempting to ferret out the secrets that are getting agents killed, and she only has her intuition and burgeoning courage to rely on as she makes crucial decisions on who to trust.
The Rook is original and action packed. The world is fully and expertly developed with imagination and the added benefit of well-wrought humor. The secret agency for which Myfanwy works is a hierarchy of interesting characters, and we’re introduced to many of the players without knowing on what moral ground they stand. I was most intrigued by Bishop Alrich, a mysterious creature of the night, about whom we learned very little (I’d love to see more of him in another of O’Malley’s stories). The Rook is a well-written tale with a few detractions: (1) I found myself bogged down a bit by the alternating perspectives. (2) The plethora of characters introduced was a bit dizzying at times, and some characters’ stories didn’t lead anywhere. I hope they were introduced so they could be continued in a sequel, because I’d like to see those stories fleshed out. Overall, I enjoyed this lively, fantastical adventure.
 

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Life in a Hawaiian leper colony in the early 1900s--based on a true story

 

Moloka’i
by Alan Brennert
St. Martin's Griffin
Moloka’i tells the story of Rachel, a young child who is diagnosed with leprosy and taken by the Hawaiian government health officials away from her family and sent by boat  to Moloka’i, a secluded leper colony, where she lives in a dorm managed by nuns along with other girls who have been diagnosed with this devastating disease. Moloka’i takes us through Rachel’s whole life on the island and beyond, when she is allowed, in middle age, to leave the island, after tests show her leprosy is in remission.
This is a well-researched novel full of heart and based in historical fact. I was filled with compassion for the characters and also when thinking of the real-life people who spent most or all of their lives on Moloka’i. I enjoyed both the Christian and pagan perspectives portrayed, and thought the author treated both with great respect. It’s a story both tragic and, because of the spirit of Rachel and the other residents of Kalaupapa on Moloka’i, uplifting. It hit me right in the heart. Reviewer's foot note: On October 21, 2012, a nun named Marianne Cope, a German—born American known for her charitable works and virtuous deeds and who spent much of her life caring for the lepers on Moloka’i without ever contracting the disease, was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI, and is now known as Saint Marianne of Moloka’i.