You wait almost forever (at least it felt like it) for a sequel to a book only to discover that the author ditched the narrator from the first book and instead made him part of an ensemble cast. Once I got over this, I have to say the sequel to surprise hit The Rook from Daniel O’Malley turned out just as great as his first novel, if somewhat different.
The Rook and Stiletto are arguably urban fantasy, or at least the setting is: there is a secret agency fighting supernatural threats while at the same time keeping them hidden from the public, there are all kinds of scary monsters running around. Still, both The Rook with it’s amnesia angle and the second with it’s ensemble cast and plot line about supernatural terror attacks and internal strife feels like it doesn’t follow exactly the same formula than most books in the genre do.
O’Malley is somewhat more inventive with his setting details, the agency defending the world, or at least Great Britain contains individuals whose powers feel like those of superheroes, yet they are entirely supernatural, while their opposition in the first book and somewhat ally in the second is another secret organization that does science-based biological augmentations, and has done for hundreds of years. The threats are also more original, not just common mystical creatures with a slight spin but entirely new creations that feels fresh and intriguing.
The long gestation time of the novel has not been wasted, O’Malley packs lots of stuff into the book, a major plot line, a minor one that still feels essential and makes the world feel more complex by not being connected to the major plot at all and lots of clever world-building in general, much more so than in the first book. Stiletto almost feels like O’Malley realized the lack of setting in the first book and overcompensates here, but instead of just deluding the reader with boring info-dump after another, he manages to integrate his world-building bits seamlessly into the narrative, making it part of the longer history that still informs the things going on in the present.
My favorite of those were two short, covert references to famous science fiction novels (Frankenstein and the Isle of Doctor Moreau) that fit perfectly into the background and enhance its fictional history instead of distracting from it.
Overall, it’s really nice to see a book that not only manages to fulfill expectations but to surpass them.