Stiletto, by Daniel O’Malley

StilettoHas it really been four years since I read The Rook? On the one hand, it feels like I was just in that hostel in Belgium yesterday, and on the other hand, I feel like I’ve been waiting FOREVER for this sequel. I’m sure there’s a supernatural explanation.

True story, though: I was SOOOOER excited for the sequel up until I had the advance copy in my hot little hands, at which point I realized I remembered almost nothing of the first book and thus feared I would be completely lost. As a friend re-read The Rook, I contemplated doing the same, but I have so little time for reading I decided to just go for it.

And, well, it turned out okay! I think. It helps that the book is mostly not about Myfanwy, the awesome-pants protagonist of the first novel. Instead we start off following a team of Checquy operatives (supernatural mutant-type soldier-types) as they investigate a very strange house with a very strange Oblong of Mystery in the center of it. The Checquy soldiers storm the Oblong, but things go very pear-shaped very quickly to the strains of Bruckner’s 8th. As they do.

Meanwhile, we meet up with Odette Leliefield, a teenage girl who is part of the Grafters, the Checquy’s long-time archenemy, recently come to London to, uh, make up? Odette resents being trapped in a hotel for most of her trip, but since it seems like every time she leaves she ends up with Checquy agents hating the Grafters more than they did before, it’s probably for the best. Especially since Odette has some sad and terrible secrets in her past that might affect this reconciliation more than anyone knows…

I’ll admit this book started off a little rough for me, as the opening chapters were super simplistic and oddly casually racist. I’m hoping that’s because of its advance copy nature and that you won’t see that oddness. But once the story really got going, the oddness either went away or became background noise and I found myself tearing through the novel. It doesn’t have quite the same driving plot that The Rook did, but I was still very curious to see how things were going to go.

I love the way O’Malley sets a scene and plays with language and reality, so that even if what he’s writing makes no sense, it sounds good while you’re reading it. This book doesn’t suffer from Implausibility quite the way the first one did, but there are a couple places that don’t hold up to close inspection — but then again, it’s a book about mutants and body modifiers, so.

If you’ve read The Rook, you should absolutely check out this follow-up, and if you haven’t read The Rook, you should go do so now because it is soooooo good. And then you can read this one if you’re feeling wistful for weirdness.

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

The RookI first heard about this book all the way back in January, at which time I said, “I really liked The Rook‘s premise, which involves a woman who has lost all of her memories pretending to be… herself, with all her memories. What. I want this book to be all crazy Inception or Before I Go to Sleep shenanigans, but as long as it does a better job than Face/Off in being remotely plausible, I’ll consider it a success.”

Well, it’s not really like Inception or Before I Go to Sleep at all. And it doesn’t have Nicolas Cage in it, so it’s automatically better than Face/Off, although I won’t swear to the “more plausible” part.

What it reminds me of very much is One of Our Thursdays is Missing, in which a written Thursday Next must pretend to be the real Thursday Next. This is probably a bad example if you’ve never read a Thursday Next novel, which, if that’s the case, go do that now and then come back and we’ll continue.

Right, okay, so now we’re on the same page. In this particular novel, our protagonist, Myfanwy (rhymed with Tiffany because Welsh is hard, dudes) Thomas, comes to devoid of all useful memories, like who she is or what she’s doing in this park surrounded by dead people. Conveniently-ish, she’s got a note in her pocket that tells her her name and also that she is in Terrible Danger and that the former occupant of Myfanwy’s brain has made dual plans for New Myfanwy — she can either pretend to be Old Myfanwy and solve the Mystery of the Missing Memories or she can run and hide where no one will find her. This no-brainer gets ruined, of course, and New Myfanwy is totes on the case.

Oh, but, p.s., Myfanwy has superpowers, and she works for a secret government organization that employs most of the superpower-having people in the tri-state area and also, like, investigates supernatural happenings and junk. No big.

And Old Myfanwy is this total Type A organizer and she’s left a literal suitcase full of letters to New Myfanwy that explain more or less everything that NM is going to need to know if she can ever find the time to read all of said letters. The narrative pops back and forth between the New Myfanwy action and the Old Myfanwy exposition as smoothly as one can expect, and I quite like the way the two sort of storylines fit together.

I also really like New Myfanwy, who’s all, “Am I doing this right? Am I saying the right things? Is this the way Thomas would — oh, fuck it, playing it safe is for losers.” This whole idea of a person unhampered by her past is really well imagined, so much that I still feel bad for Old Myfanwy that she could never have been as awesome as her clean-slate counterpart.

Of course, while NM’s awesomeness is, well, awesome, it does so while sticking its tongue out at plausibility. The problem gets swept away near the end by a, “Well, what kind of impersonator would do such a terrible job of it?” which, maybe, if you’re not part of a secret government organization that kind of deals in body-snatchers and whatnot. I mean, seriously.

But then again, who cares about plausible impersonation when you have a novel that includes people with weird X-Men powers, a duck that predicts the future, dragons, and crazy Dutch Dr. Frankensteins? Not me! File this under Books I Would Totally Read Again.

Recommendation: For those that liked the preceding paragraph and also people who like weird stuff in general.

Rating: 9/10