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Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

A review by Nalini Haynes

Stiletto is the sequel to The Rook, a first-class debut novel in the fantasy genre starring Myfanwy Thomas, a woman who loses her memory and must bluff while in a key role in a shadowy secret magical society, the Checquy. If she missteps, her own agency will order her slow painful execution.

Stiletto starts with Felicity, a Pawn in the Checquy, called in to check out a building in which an organism is growing. Her team is there to protect the ‘muggles’ (not O’Malley’s term) but it all goes wrong.

Cue new point of view. A Grafter agent — an enemy of the Checquy — comes to London with her family (it’s complicated) to amalgamate their forces for good. Only not all Grafters are happy about this turn of events and many Checquy agents have a “guess who’s coming to dinner” attitude.

At times the story is engaging then — jolt — we’re in the wilds of Scotland because O’Malley is setting up a thing to happen later. This particular sub-plot would have served better as a separate novel or ‘bonus material’. Although it eventually added to the characters and their interactions, these interludes detracted from the flow of the plot, interrupting characters’ immediate concerns.

Stiletto is enjoyable but it doesn’t live up to its precursor. Story threads weave in and out, some more seamlessly than others, while some jar. And the climax: my reaction was “I read several hundred pages to finish with that?!” O’Malley reminds and recapitulates the location of Chekov’s gun then the ultimate solution feels like a balloon farting instead of banging.

Stiletto is a good novel — it’s past the upward Bell-shaped curve for fantasy novels — but it doesn’t live up to The Rook. I hope O’Malley takes his time and cooks another Rook for his next novel.

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780732296865
ISBN 10: 0732296862
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
Format: paperback, 608 pages
Stiletto — a stiletto is impaled on a British coat of arms

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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