The following contains spoilers for The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, and should only be read if you have completed the first novel. You have been warned.
Earlier this year in book club we read The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, and we loved it. With its unique take on amnesia, humor, great characters, and exciting plot I was excited to find out that the sequel, Stiletto, had a release date right around the corner. The Rook was a great book, despite its flaws, and brought something different to the genre. It was my hope that Stiletto would expand O’Malley’s unique author voice and address some of the cohesion and world building issues that plagued The Rook. But before we get to that, let’s first talk about the plot.
When we left Myfawny in The Rook, the Cheque and the Grafters had decided to join organizations in the most uncomfortable business merger of all time. With a history of systematically taught hatred in both organizations, it looked like the fusion of these two groups of people was going to be a lot of work. O’Malley explores this theme extremely well by providing us with two new perspectives in Stiletto, Pawn Felicity and (something in Belgian) Odette. Each of these two characters is used as a representative of the younger generation of the organizations, and through them we get to see the difficulties of allying with people that are perceived as monsters. In addition to those two, we also do occasionally spend time with Myfawny, though her sections are rare. To begin with, while Felicity and Odette are fine vehicles for the story, they are not as deep or as interesting as Myfawny was in The Rook. While Myfawny felt like a complex and original character, Felicity is made out to be a soldier obsessed with her job and Odette is made out to be a spoiled rich girl who is self absorbed. Both characters are slowly revealed to be more complex and likable, but neither ever had the resonance with me that I felt with Myfawny from page one.
Despite weaker leads the plot is great, the humor is still on point, and the worldbuilding is much more fleshed out…. sometimes. Here is where we get to the massive problem with Stiletto – it is extremely inconsistent. In the first 25% of Stiletto, I had to stop reading it a few times because I was laughing so hard I could not hold the book straight. Then at about the one quarter mark, the book drops almost all attempts at humor and becomes much more serious. I think this was a massive mistake on O’Malley’s part because I would give that first 25% a 10/10, but the last three quarters… less. The world building is all over the place. Certain parts of the book did a great job fleshing out both organizations and adding a lot to the history and tension between them. Others lazily info-dumped an encyclopedias worth of information on me in a 3-page period, which was extremely unsatisfying. Despite that info-dump, I also felt like I was missing lots of small pieces of information. Somehow I still don’t know what power the Lord of the Cheque has, and it is honestly driving me insane.
My opinion of the plot swung like a pendulum throughout the book,and I can’t decided where I landed. Certain sections had me unable to put the book down due to curiosity and excitement. Others left me extremely disappointed with the reuse of older plot points and unsatisfying twists. In the end I think that the prose through which O’Malley told the plot was a lot better than The Rook, but I liked the actual plot of The Rook a lot more. In addition to this, there were like 3-5 subplots in the book that went absolutely nowhere. I can’t tell if O’Malley included them in the book to give red herrings (which if so, well done) or simply forgot to finish writing some of them. These elements all left me extremely frustrated and confused as to my feelings on the book.
In the end, I still enjoyed Stiletto – just less than The Rook. It had the air of a bridge book, spending a lot of time setting up the finale. I am still excited and eager to read the next installment of the story, but I very much hope to see a return in quality matching the Rook and that O’Malley learns from the difficulties of Stiletto. A small caveat I will add to this review: it is possible that Stiletto’s sporadic writing style was a thematic choice rather than an authorial difficulty. If this is true then I would expect many people might love Stiletto, but it is still not the book for me. The Quill to Live recommends Stiletto, but also advises you to go in with reserved expectations.
Rating: Stiletto – 7.0/10