When I first dove head on into the glorious world of Audible.com, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley was one of my first purchases. My actual first was basically three of the then four A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and my second was a handful of Christopher Moore books. In fact, I only ever bothered with The Rook in the first place because Christopher Moore… Said something. I can’t remember if he was showing his support, or trying to convince his fans to leave Daniel O’Malley the hell alone over an assumed slight, or a third thing, but I figured I’d give it a look as long as everyone else was talking about it.
The first Rook novel, released either in 2011 or 2012 depending on which source you’re quoting, was actually pretty good. I don’t remember going into it with especially high expectations, but that has less to do with any opinions of Daniel O’Malley himself, and more to do with my general philosophy of “keep your expectations low, and you’re never disappointed”. It kind of reminded me of X-men if they were less of an academy for wayward superhumans, and more of a James Bond like secret organization. I genuinely enjoyed everything about this book. Even if it felt like Myfanwy Thomas’ powers were weapons grade bullshit.
The first audio book was read by Susan Duerden: a woman who sounds… Not necessarily bored, but I looked forward to character dialogue when she was reading it. It’s been a while since I listened to book 1, but I remembered finding her to be a bit dull when reading the expositional stuff.
It’s either this exact reason, or the fact four to five years happened between books that saw to it that Duerden wasn’t called in to read book 2: STILETTO. Instead, it’s read by… Moira Qwirk?
Whoa whoa, hold on a minute. You’re telling me the woman who used to blow the whistle on Nickelodeon GUTS! is reading a Daniel O’Malley novel? In the immortal words of one Phillip J. Fry: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have let my excitement get the better of me. To her credit, Qwirk does a great job reading. Hell, even her American accent is better than Duerden’s. That being said, I probably should’ve started with book 1 again before bulldozing my way over to this one. If for no other reason, then because I definitely needed a refresher course. I’d forgotten all about Myfanwy’s estranged brother and sister, about the fact the organization is called The Checquy (which I’m assured by two different readers is pronounced CHEH-KAY), and a couple other characters from the first book. Gestalt and Dr. Krisp were literally the only other Checquy members I could remember off the top of my head.
When I first started reading STILETTO, I was actually beginning to think we’d moved on from Myfanwy Thomas completely, and instead, we’d be focusing entirely on Felicity. To a large extent, I wasn’t wrong, but Myfanwy ended up playing more of a roll in the story than I would’ve guessed. I mean sure, she’s a key member in negociations and all, but I figured she’d only make a couple cameos at most.
Oh yeah, there’s probably spoilers in this review.
Honestly, the title STILETTO kind of confused me. I figured it had to do with the grafter girl with the spikes that came out of her wrist. I want to say tarkata style, but the tarkata race doesn’t have venom in their blades, so it’s probably not an accurate comparison. I figured it might be the code name the villain used, or even one of the Checquy. In the end, the only reason I can think of for the title is pure symbolism during Felicity’s ending monologue about grafter girl’s involvement in the partnership between The Chequy and the grafters.
Overall, the story was a bit of a slow start. There was a lot of history to get through revolving around how the grafters went from superpower, to vanquished, to secret brotherhood, to terrorist organization, and finally to the fractured organization it has become as of book 2. Not to mention Felicity’s back story, catching up the halfwhits who decided to skip book 1 entirely on who the hell Myfanwy Thomas is (I guess I kind of qualify?), etc. Not to mention the Asian girl who could turn into smoke ends up getting killed off pretty early on, which sucks, because I kind of liked her superpower. If I could have a superpower, turning into smoke, or mist, or something along those lines would definitely be number two on my list. Sorry, but shapeshifter just holds too much appeal for me.
The man I came to know as “The Crystal Spike Killer” was, in all honesty, a complete and total waste of time. At first, I thought he was going to have more involvement in the story. Hell, at first, I thought HE was Stiletto! He has a grand total of one encounter with Myfanwy, then you don’t hear from him ever again until the epilogue. Then, he gets dispatched in rather anticlimactic fashion by a minor character from book 1. I was actually kind of annoyed by that. Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to be the final big bad, but at least make him a little more important to the plot than just some excuse to pad out the chapter count to 50.
Crystal Spike Killer aside, though, I enjoyed this book. As I said before, Moira Qwirk is an excellent reader, and a refreshing departure from Susan Duerden. It was a long hike, but aside from a couple of head-scratcher moments like “Why is this guy even in this fucking story?”, I enjoyed it.
Is STILETTO better than the first book? I don’t think I’d go that far. I’d say it’s maintaining the status quo of excellence more than anything else. I’d recommend you give it a read, but I also recommend reading book 1 first. This isn’t exactly The Dresdin Files, after all.