STILETTO. By Daniel O’Malley. Little Brown. $29.99.


Canberra author Daniel O’Malley’s 2012 debut novel, The Rook, gained wide international acclaim. That year, it was one of Time magazine’s Books of the Year and took out the Best SF Novel at the Australian Aurealis Awards. In 2015, it was the eighth most borrowed adult-fiction title in Australian libraries. It is currently being turned into a TV series by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, Lionsgate and Hulu.

A huge publishing success, therefore, for this former Canberra Grammar School student, who went on to gain a master’s degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He currently works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in Canberra.

Now, four years later, comes O’Malley’s’ Stiletto, the second book in “The Checquy Files” series, which again features, although in not so prominent a role, his character Myfanwy Thomas. Myfanwy is a Rook in the British Checquy secret agency, which has a hierarchy termed by chess pieces. The Checquy agents have a variety of enhanced powers to fight supernatural threats. One reviewer, termed The Rook, “X-Men meets The X-Files”, because of O’Malley’s mixture of characters with superpowers and bureaucratic paranoia.

In Stiletto, Myfanwy has to forge an alliance between the Checquy and their centuries-old European enemies, the Grafters, who are able to “twist and warp living flesh to suit their purposes”. Myfanwy’s task is difficult enough without a Grafter splinter group, “the Antagonists”, derailing the process with some literally monstrous attacks on the Checquy.

Myfanwy’s protege, Pawn Felicity, is far from happy after being ordered to protect Odette, a descendant of Grafter royalty, through the negotiations. Their relationship, however, slowly changes into mutual respect, partly through having to survive a number of attacks which requires all their combined supernatural healing powers.

Myfanwy also has to face her share of supernatural attacks from the Antagonists, including one at Royal Ascot. O’Malley has used a trip to the UK to good effect, placing a number of key events within well researched British locales, which range from London parks to a Scottish village where a fierce supernatural battle takes place.

O’Malley’s action sequences work extremely well, although the narrative pace is weakened at times by historical and information backfill. The nearly 600 pages could perhaps have been edited down, given some of the background detail had already been outlined in The Rook.

O’Malley’s realistic, streetwise, dialogue blends well with his dry humour. The Antagonists choose a London location because it’s next to an Indian takeaway; a flesh eating ghoul has a spice account at Fortnum and Mason; a supernatural monster tries to lure the Checquy Pawns into a trap by playing Bruckner’s Symphony Number 8 and Checquy elite troops, the Barghests, a combination of “SWAT, knights, ninjas and Swiss Army knives”, celebrate victory with songs in Latin.

We are clearly in Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams and Tom Holt territory, but O’Malley is decidedly his own voice. Stiletto is a worthy sequel to The Rook and will be eagerly devoured, a relevant word given the context of the novel, by O’Malley’s increasing number of global fans.

Daniel O’Malley will be in conversation with Colin Steele at the Haydon Allen lecture theatre, Australian National University. May 30, 6pm. Free event. Bookings at anu.edu备案老域名/events or call 6125 8415.

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