Last year I read The Rook, and I liked it enough that when I noticed this sequel at the library, I gave it a shot. Did not regret! This is a great example of a sequel that doesn’t disappoint—although, it doesn’t quite deliver exactly what I wanted either. Namely, I was expecting another book that follows Myfanwy Thomas. She’s here in Stiletto, but she isn’t really the central protagonist. For that we have Odette and Felicity.
Spoilers for the first book but not this one.
Stiletto begins with the leaders of the Grafters showing up in London to negotiate their merger into the Checquy. This is lifelong enemies joining together, y’all, and it is tense. Odette is a descendant of one of the founders (and current leader) of the Grafters, even though she herself is quite young (early twenties) and thus has fairly few physical upgrades. She has been raised to hate and fear the Checquy and their “unnatural” abilities, however, so to be among them—to soon be working for them—is an uncomfortable sensation. Odette is assigned Felicity, a Checquy Pawn who has the ability to psychically “read” objects for their history and other sensations, as a bodyguard. Felicity hates the Grafters as much as Grafters hate the Checquy … nevertheless, she understands that protecting Odette is a top priority.
Because although Myfanwy doesn’t know it, the Grafters have brought a threat with them to England, and it’s killing people.
Let me get over my disappointment of not getting more Myfanwy so I can then talk about how much I like Odette and Felicity! Myfanwy is such an interesting character because she is really a new person, given her amnesiac state in The Rook. With only two members of the Checquy aware of her condition, Myfanwy’s personality changes are otherwise abrupt and puzzling to everyone else. Having taken down Rook Gestalt and catapulted a Pawn who dislikes her into the Bishopric vacated by the treacherous Conrad Grantchester, Myfanwy has her share of political issues on top of the Grafters coming to join the family. There’s a lot going on, and I wish we had more time to experience Myfanwy’s side of all these things. We only just got to know her, and although we get a few chapters that follow her perspective closely, this really isn’t her book. Rather, Daniel O’Malley brings in two new characters to create a kind of ensemble cast (though it’s really more of a duo) … and that’s fine, really.
I didn’t much like Odette at first, but she grew on me quickly, much like her Grafter muscles and organs grow quickly. I appreciate that O’Malley gives us protagonists who need to unlearn biases. Both Odette and Felicity have misconceptions about the other given their organizations’ centuries of enmity. They start off hating each other in an abstract way, and many of the incidents in the book involve the necessity of overlooking this animosity to form a common bond. I like that as Odette grows and realizes the true nature of the world, she starts thinking for herself instead of just following orders given by her superiors. Similarly, Felicity has been raised to be a good little Pawn—but she also grows and becomes more independent.
The overarching political plot is interesting as a way of tying together the story. O’Malley never allows it to become so overwhelming that it slows down the book—if there’s anything I can criticize Stiletto for, it isn’t that it’s ever slow! There is a ton of action in here … perhaps too much, or indeed, perhaps too unfocused. We barely get time to breathe before Felicity and Odette are whisked away, dispatched, or stumble into another threat or dangerous situation that involves—as O’Malley has Odette lampshade—icky fluids covering one’s good suits. Moreover, there’s a whole subplot with a serial killer who grows crystals that then stab people that seemed … entirely extraneous. I found myself in the peculiar state of mind where I simultaneously can’t put down the book yet am also wishing for it to end—more specifically, for O’Malley to, in the immortal words of Monty Python, “get on with it!” The development of the main plot, with the identities of the Antagonists and the convoluted actions they get up to, takes way too many detours.
As I reflected in my review of the first book, O’Malley’s humour here almost works for me. It’s just a little off, and that remains true for Stiletto. The interminable digressions and infodumps, which I just barely tolerate when Charles Stross does it in The Laundry Files, feel longer and even less germane here. I waded through them and out the other side, and it was fine … but O’Malley’s worldbuilding isn’t quite grand enough for me to enjoy playing in this universe so long that I require that amount of exposition. Get on with the supernatural threats, please!
I remember thinking that the premise for this series would make a great TV show, and lo and behold, it has been adapted. I haven’t seen the adaptation, but it seems like they’ve probably ruined it, alas. Oh well, that’s how TV works: it takes books that would be great adaptations and ruins them. This is our society. Everything is fine.
Stiletto leaves in me in almost the identical position The Rook left me a little more than a year ago. I guess that’s a good thing? This is a fun book. Arguably you can read this without reading the first book (though I recommend the first one too). It’s funny, even though its jokes don’t always land with me. The protagonists are two dynamic yet different women, which I love. There’s a good plot here. What’s not to like? I’d read Book 3.