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I rank this as a 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 5
In 2012, Daniel O’Malley published his debut novel “The Rook”. An instant best seller, it was nothing short of brilliant in its vision and execution and, in my opinion, the strongest and best debut of an author since Stephen King’s “Carrie”. In short, I LOVED IT! And I am not the only one with this opinion; look at the reviews on Audible or Goodreads and you will see overwhelming adoration of not only “The Rook” as a novel but the book’s protagonist, Myfawney Thomas.
2016 brings us the sequel: Stiletto. It took awhile to get to book form but, considering the tremendous height of the bar set by “The Rook”, “Stiletto” has some huge shoes to fill so I couldn’t begrudge the extra time. I had pre-ordered the audiobook a month or more in advance and stayed up late so I could download it as soon as it was available. Yep, I am a fanboy…
I was caught off-guard immediately when not only was the book narrated by Moira Quirk (as opposed to Susan Duerdan, who narrated “The Rook”), but the book is told in first person by a young Grafter woman, Odette, and a young Checquy woman, Pawn Clemens. You have to understand that Myfawney Thomas of “The Rook” inspires such feelings of loyalty (“love” wouldn’t be too strong a word also) that it is almost heresy to not have her at the forefront of its sequel. Not only is she not at the forefront, she is barely mentioned until the second half of “Stiletto”. I see it as a huge gamble by the author, but one that I believe payed off and will ultimately provide freedom to the author in future sequels. Other reviewers will probably not agree: they will say that while “Stiletto” is good, they couldn’t get into it because Myfawney wasn’t there. This is why I felt I needed to expound on Myfawney’s overwhelming influence on the success of “The Rook”: any sequel that didn’t continue with Myfawney’s first person narrative was going to be doomed to lukewarm reviews by a significant percentage of reviewers because of her absence alone, regardless of Stiletto’s plot or the author’s skill.
A brief synopsis: “Stiletto” picks up immediately following the events of “The Rook” with the proposed incorporation of the Grafters and a Grafter delegation is in London to hammer out the terms and conditions of the Grafters joining the Checquy. The Grafters are keeping secret (or trying to) the fact that they are being systematically hunted by an unknown group. Combine this with the inbred hatred the Grafters and the Checquy are taught to feel about each other from a early age and the tension is a powder keg with a lit fuse. Stiletto is told in the first person by Odette, a young Grafter woman and the Checquy guard who is assigned as her body guard, Pawn Clemens. Through their eyes, the listener/reader gets to experience the intense hatred and mistrust that each group has for the other and to contemplate what it might take to have the two groups become one without outright civil war.
Moira Quirk delivered an outstanding performance and narration. I had noticed immediately that she was not the same narrator who performed “The Rook”, but since “Stiletto” isn’t about Myfawney Thomas, it makes sense to have a different narrator and she demonstrated skill, talent, and a remarkable amount of distinct voices and accents for the myriad of characters contained in “Stiletto”.
Bottom Line: “Stiletto” is an excellent sequel to “The Rook” if the listener/reader is able to accept it on its own merit and a continuation of the Checquy's storyline. If the audience is looking for “a part two to The Rook”, he/she is going to be disappointed. At over 23 hrs of entertainment, “Stiletto” is a welcome addition to the mythos of the Checquy and will contribute significantly to its current and future success in both plotlines and fresh characters.
18 of 18 people found this review helpful
I loved the Rook, and was really excited to see that a sequel had finally been published. Unfortunately, Stiletto seems to suffer from second-novel disease, and, instead of the tightly-written Rook we get a meandering book in desperate need of an editor. It takes almost 8 hours for the main characters to meet, time that is filled with details like the types of medical tests being run on a character or the exhaustive childhood backstory of every random individuals mentioned in the text. So much is clearly unnecessary, that even with the engaging characters and great reading, the book really drags at points.
It is clear that O'Malley has become enamored with the world he has built, and wants to show us every detail. Unfortunately, it is not always a particularly coherent or interesting world - there are lots of odd tonal changes (characters see their friends slaughtered, then have witty banter) and lots of details going into explaining how aspects of the world works that still seem full of logical holes. For example, O'Malley writes at great length about how operatives are taken away from their parents who are led to believe their children are dead or missing, but the adult operatives are still allowed to keep their names and mingle with the general population, with only their birthdate changed. As a result, the attempts to explain how this fantasy setting fits into our own often seem belabored. Elements of the main plots run into similar problems, as the author really wants to justify that the two main groups of the novel REALLY hate each other, in ways that aren't always believable.
That being said there is still fun to be had. The characters are interesting, and the humor is still there, even if it leans a little too heavily on randomness (people being turned into chairs, or having the power to control stoats). The reading is also really excellently done.
I really wish this novel had been cut down by at least half, because there is a good story with fun characters, if you are willing to sit through a lot of filler.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful