***** Five out of Five Stars
Review by: Mark Palm
Once again I am stepping into fairly-uncharted territory by reviewing the second book in a series without having done the same for the first one. This book however, Stiletto, by Daniel O’Malley is so good that I decided that it was worth it. The first book in this series, The Rook, ( which is every bit as good as it’s sequel, and I heartily urge you to read it), is a supernatural thriller with a tight plot, great characters, and it managed to be tense, scary and often surprisingly funny, often all at the same time. It is the story of Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas, who wakes up in a London park with no memory, suffering from a serious beating, and surrounded by dead men in suits wearing latex gloves. In her pocket os a letter from her former self, warning her that she she is in serious danger and offering her two choices; run away and live a peaceful, happy life, or return to her former identity and found out who betrayed her, and gave her amnesia. She chooses the latter, and discovers that she is a high-ranking member of The Checquy, A Rook, in Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service, a secret organization of people with metahuman powers, Myfanwy included. Aided only by the letters from her former self Myfanwy returns to her job, which is to protect Great Britain from supernatural horrors, and battle their nemesis, The Grafters, a scientific Brotherhood of super-surgeons who manipulate flesh and bone and DNA with astounding results, whom they have been battling for centuries.
Without ruining The Rook I will say that Stiletto begins where The Rook ends, with The Checquy and The Grafters trying to end the Cold War that they have been waging for centuries. We start by meeting Pawn Felicity Clement, a member of one of the Checquy elite strike teams, and Odette Leliefeld, a young woman who is a member of the Grafter aristocracy. Felicity is tasked with guarding Odette while the two secret societies meet to try and arrange a truce to their long-running battle. Needless to say there are a lot of people on both sides who are wary of the peace treaty; imagine the KGB and the CIA trying to bury the hatchet and merge. Members of both sides are still keeping secrets, and someone seems intent on not only sabotaging the negotiations but on killing Rook Thomas.
There is much, much more afoot than I can describe; the plot is like a set of nesting dolls, stories resting in other stories. Mr. O’Malley ‘s prose is smooth and he has a real knack for action sequences that are as clear as they are thrilling. His dialogue is fresh and often funny, and his inventiveness seemingly knows no bounds. Even in the most dire parts of Stiletto, when people are fighting for their lives, and sometimes failing, their is an almost manic sense of originality. I can imagine Mr. O’Malley almost cackling as he unspools one crazy idea after another, and in such a polished way that it still seems real.
The same can be said of the characters; there are a ton of them, and most of them have astounding abilities, but they all seem grounded as the people you meet when sharing an elevator ride. The three main characters, Myfanwy, Felicity and Odette and sterling examples. While each has astounding special abilities they are three-dimensional, with real-world problems and concerns. I have to give a special nod to the author for making his three leads women, and kick-ass women, without once ever making a big deal about it. Time and time again in Stiletto there are scenes where these three women are performing above and beyond the call, and I thought of that wonderful quote about why Ginger Rogers was so great; she did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high-heels. To top it off not a single one of them seems to looking for, or needing a man to make their lives complete. It’s the icing on the cake of a book that you really need to read.