Happy Thursday, guys!
So. Tuesday was an excellent bookish day, because it was the day that Stiletto was released.
Yes - the book I've been absolutely gushing about for the past six months (and then some!) has finally hit a local store near you.
So read on for why you need to rush out and buy this book ASAP, and why Dan O'Malley also writes damned good female characters.
Published June 14th 2016 by Little, Brown, and Company
Format read: ARC via publisher
Previous fans of Daniel O'Malley will be clamoring to get their hands on this sequel, while newer readers will definitely become willingly and enthusiastic fans of the world of the Checquy.
When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers---and the bureaucratic finesse---to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries:
The Checquy---the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural threats, and...
The Grafters---a centuries-old supernatural threat.
But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook and two women who absolutely hate each other, can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating other worldly war.
Unfortunately for me, and fortunately (?) for all of you: I don't have good GIF game. So I'm going to hunker down and do my damnedest to explain:
* Just why Stiletto was worth the four-year wait,
* How Daniel O'Malley is clearly a badass feminist, who writes excellent female characters, and
* Why I will be highly suspicious of anything citrus-scented from here on out.
Ready? Then read on for more!
Things that worked:
If there's one thing readers likely learned from The Rook, it's that Dan O'Malley writes damned good female characters. Myfanwy Thomas was a super powered everywoman, with the humor, snark and organizational capabilities - no, seriously - that made her unforgettable to every reader.
So it's probably unsurprising to say that the two female leads of Stiletto: Pawn Felicity Jane Clements and Grafter Odette Leliefeld, are every bit as compelling as Myfanwy. Though Felicity and Odette are clearly from two very different worlds, O'Malley does an exceptional job of showing how they both fit seamlessly into the greater Checquy/Grafter merger puzzle.
Felicity and Odette's relationship naturally evolves as the book progresses, beginning with them meeting as adversaries, and eventually moving into hesitant friendship. Along the way, O'Malley does a nice job of using their personalities and backgrounds to flesh out the institutionalized hatred between the two groups, and also helps to emphasize the challenges of being young and female, in changing, complex environments.
Through trial and error, both girls individually come to learn that the other has strengths and gifts that are not dissimilar to their own, and their eventual friendship is a great reminder of just what it means to have an ally in challenging situations.
So let me get this out of the way: yes, Stiletto is a very long book. It's actually about 100 pages longer than The Rook, which was already a very long book.
(Fun fact: the Stiletto audio book is about twenty-three hours to Rook's sixteen.)
But it's evident from the first few chapters, that the added length is exactly what O'Malley needed to flesh out this new and slightly more complex world. He uses those pages to great effect; not only building on the quirky, super powered world of the Checquy, but also crafting - pun intended! - a convincing, heartbreaking foundation for the Grafters
There's an inherent logic for how the Grafters came to be, and just how the hatred between the Checquy and the Grafters initially developed. Though the history was a tad more than I needed a times, it's an absolutely convincing look at just how everything has been building to this moment, and for Odette's delegation to pave the way.
As for the actual writing? Dan is as funny, detailed and necessarily succinct as ever. Both of his female voices are strong in third person, and have quirks, tics and thoughts that soundly differentiate them from one another. Just like The Rook, there were bits of dialogue and description that I just wanted to reread over and over, which made the reading process probably longer than it had to be.
The supernatural elements/the surgical elements
Outside of outdoing himself by coming up with more inventive powers - a conversation with a group of Pawns about white people and wasps had me chuckling out loud - O'Malley also uses the Checquy powers and the Grafter surgical skills to ask some pointed questions about talent, power and how one can chose to use and/or misunderstand those gifts.
Both the Grafters and the Checquy are initially equally fascinated/repulsed by each other's abilities, and O'Malley shows what it takes to get the two sides to bridge their differences. It's a process that takes repeated effort and diplomacy, and the hurdles scaled are often painful moments that come with trial and error.
The distrust on both sides serves as a reminder of just how easy it is to judge because of institutionalized behavior, and how often it might take extraordinary circumstances to bridge that gap. O'Malley gives repeated nods to the fact that it's not, and will never be easy to find a steady peace between the two groups, but also shows how easy it can be - vís-a-vís Myfany, of all people - to not hate, if it's not part of the culture - something that readers will likely ruminate over.
Interpersonal power politics aside, O'Malley also asks readers to consider just how easily it is to abuse an extraordinary gift like a Checquy power or Grafter skills. It's an acknowledgement of the idea that with great power comes even greater responsibility, and will likely encourage many a reader to consider just how they'd handle such gifts.
(On a slightly less serious note: Thanks for ruining my love of citrus forever, O'Malley. Just kidding. Sort of.)
On relationships, and how it relates to the greater good:
While The Rook was more or less centered on the idea of Myfanwy learning how to come to terms with her new self, Stiletto is very much a book about relationships.
There's the core relationship between Felicity and Odette, which has its ups and downs, and super-powered learning curve. But there are also the relationships that the two women have within their own lives, which impact their development and contribute to the overall story.
Without giving spoilers away, O'Malley meticulously uses these relationships to ask time and time again, what individuals like Felicity and Odette value in a world where one wrong move in the merger can result in a supernatural war.
There are repeated challenges to just what both women hold to be true, including some fairly specific instances that question their agency, and whether the two women are willing to surrender their own beliefs to the merger - both voluntarily and involuntarily. It's tricky territory to navigate, but O'Malley hits the right note on how he chooses those relationships to ask those larger-scale questions, including some brutal moments where both women are forced to question what they know to be true.
Outside of our two female leads, the book is sprinkled with family relationships, friendships - including some familiar faces (!) - and even adversarial relationships that really help emphasize the point that as intriguing as their supernatural or surgical powers may be, the Checquy and Grafters are still at their core, made up of interpersonal relationships which help drive the narrative (and drama!) forward.
Though he shines when it comes to writing action scenes, O'Malley also has a gift for writing quieter, introspective moments.
As the book winds down, O'Malley does a nice job of not only tying together loose ends, but setting up a firm foundation for the potential future of his cast of characters. We see how Felicity, Odette and the secondary characters have reached and evolved to this point, and it sets up a nice, optimistic foundation for the future of the merger.
Though it seems clichéd the call the ending cinematic, it really is. And this is a good thing.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
It definitely gives readers the impression that Myfanwy is the protagonist of Stiletto, when the focus of the book is solidly on Felicity and Odette. Though I personally didn't mind this shift, I do think that some of the readers who were especially attached to Myfanwy may initially feel a bit let down.
However, let me just reassure all prospective readers right now: Felicity and Odette more than make up for any lack of Myfanwy. They're collectively badass in their own right, and Myfanwy's brief appearances just round out an already solid novel.
Outside of being a fun, well-written romp in a world where every minute spent is a worthwhile one, Daniel O'Malley has also written a great tale on what it means to be young, female and living in a supernatural world on the brink of change.
Felicity and Odette begin Stiletto with seemingly nothing in common, but conclude the novel recognizing that there is a universality in their goals, aims and even their very understanding of the world around them. O'Malley's essentially written a parable on learning how to walk a mile in another's shoes, and readers will likely come away having learned a little bit from that journey.
Highly recommend for all readers, full stop.
(In fact, why are you still reading this review? Go buy the book already!)
About the author:
Daniel O'Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master's Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia, where he works for the Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats.