Stiletto (Checquy #2): making frenemies

Book cover: Stiletto - Daniel O MalleyThe Checquy and the Wetenschappelijke Broederschap van Natuurkundigen are at peace for the first time in history, negotiating an unexpected merger. It may make sense at the top, but it’s unthinkable to Pawns indoctrinated to hate and fear Grafters. And nobody has thought to ask the junior Grafters what they really think…

It took me ages to get round to reading The Rook, which was a mistake I wasn’t going to make twice. I pounced on the first copy of Stiletto I could reasonably get my hands on (thank you, Head of Zeus) and have devoured it with glee and abandon. As in abandoning responsibilities until I just finish this chapter, thank you very much.

We get a pair of new heroines for Stiletto, in the shape of Pawn Felicity Clements and Miss Odette Leliefeld, several-times-great-granddaughter of Broederschap founder Graaf Ernst van Suchtlen.

Rook Myfanwy Thomas, unexpectedly, is relegated to being a secondary character – which ends up working really well. In seeing Myfanwy through Felicity’s eyes, we see how well she has adapted to her own life; arguably she’s a better Rook than she ever was (if you see what I mean), and her command of her powers makes her truly fearsome to just about everyone. It also means we get to giggle at asides that go straight over Felicity’s head, which amused me entirely too much.

Felicity is belligerent and focused. She can read the history of inanimate objects (including the dead) through touch, and she aspires to be a Barghest (the equivalent of Checquy Special Forces). She hates and fears Grafters like any good Pawn, but when she loses her entire team in a terrible incident in North London, she’s given a hotline to Myfanwy and reassigned as bodyguard – and if needs be executioner – to Odette.

Odette is a surgical genius (well duh, Grafter!) who specialises in eyes. Seen from her own perspective, she’s traumatised by the recent deaths of her best friends and cares deeply about her little brother. Seen through Felicity’s eyes, she’s a spoilt rich kid with expensive habits and a knack for inhuman body modification. That’s okay – as far as Odette is concerned, Felicity is a violence-obsessed psychopath with no manners. The joy of their frenmity is that they are both absolutely right about each other.

It’s obvious from the start this has to be a buddy story, and O’Malley unspools the usual string of supernatural incidents and squicky threats for the girls to negotiate as they build their relationship. The sideshow of negotiations and bureaucracy provided ongoing amusement, although my real belly laughs came courtesy of linguistic Easter eggs. I happen to speak Dutch, German and Latin; if you don’t, you may wish to Google translate the names of the horses mentioned at Royal Ascot (don’t worry about the fog – the language gag in this instance gets spelled out in due course).

I really enjoy O’Malley’s sense of humour, although he tries a little too hard in the opening chapter. Once he settles down, it’s a familiar mix of snark and squick with an ongoing question of who to trust, which arguably works even better here than in The Rook as each half of the cast genuinely considers the other half to be inhuman monsters.

I loved the Grafter perspective – their scientific expertise is hard-earned and applied in ways no government would ever approve of, but they are all enhanced humans. The Checquy are inexplicable freaks, who are capable of almost anything and in some cases barely recognisable as human at all. Each has tried very hard to wipe the other out. How on earth will they find enough common ground to move past centuries of antagonistic propaganda?

My only real criticism is that the novel ends feels a bit baggy around the edges. Mileage will vary – I enjoyed the glimpses of Grafter history and of business-as-usual Checquy missions because I was enjoying the cast and revelling being back in the world – but others may find them distracting.

I look forward to the further adventures of Rook Thomas and her merry band of monsters.


Stiletto is available now

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.