Welp, this series is catnip for me. I don’t even know where to start a review for Stiletto, because despite any faults (and there were a few,) I loved the crap out of it. It’s imaginative, hilarious, creepy, witty, and thrilling. While I at first shed a tear over the loss of Rook Myfanwy Thomas as the primary protagonist, I was shortly mollified by how quickly I took to loving the two additional stellar women who drive the story. Felicity Clements, Pawn of the Checquy, has a special kind of Sight that allows her to project her consciousness into most types of inanimate, non-living things. This ability is helpful for things like being able to read the layout of a room that a strike team of soldiers is about to enter, and identifying possible booby traps they might encounter. She can also read the history of an object (or dead person/animal), making her useful for good old CSI. Her current task, though, is not one that she particularly wanted, or one that her talents can help her with: she must play bodyguard to Odette Leliefeld, a Grafter “princess” who is among the delegation sent to negotiate an alliance (and something of a merger) with their former enemies, the Checquy.
Odette’s POV is instantly humanizing to a population who, in The Rook, were seen from the Checquy perspective as unnatural mutants, and were portrayed as such. Through Odette, we get to learn more about the Grafter craft as they see it: the skillful, intelligent application of the most robust biotechnology that is known to them. Not merely interested in creating monsters for war, the Grafters also adapt their own bodies just to be… better. For instance, Odette, with her talent for medicine and surgery, has adapted eyesight that can see things ordinary humans wouldn’t be able to without a microscope. She has also improved her fine motor skills so that she can perform surgeries by hand that would otherwise require delicate robotics. She has a few creepy weaponized enhancements — self protection! — but mostly, her adaptations are beneficial to others as well as herself.
Like in The Rook, Stiletto features material that is kind of secondary to the story, but is great fun in that it exposes the reader to the Checquy just doing what it does. So you get people with awesome supernatural powers fighting monsters that are themselves awesomely supernatural and freaky. Sometimes, these parts run away from themselves, like the crystal-growing serial killer who is never in any way folded into the larger plot. For me, though, I hardly minded, as I was enjoying the book so much that I rather appreciated any addition that meant I got to keep reading it.
Also as in The Rook, the meat of the story is political, and concerns the stability of the organization(s) and how that affects the safety of the employees/members. That these sections are as interesting or moreso than supernatural monster fighting is a testament to Daniel O’Malley’s writing, which just really strikes a chord with me in a way I can’t describe. Before I wrote this full review, I simply wrote “more please” in the review space on Goodreads, because I can’t get enough of his storytelling or of his cheeky, good-natured humor that is expertly expressed differently through each character, but nonetheless retains his unique voice throughout.
In short, I love this book and its predecessor and cannot really be objective about them. They may not be perfect (but what is a perfect book?) but I don’t care.