this is part of as days pass by, by Stuart Langridge

Books I own by Daniel O'Malley

The Rook goodreads

Daniel O'Malley (Checquy Files #1)

Words. Words are important.

A perfect example of this is The Rook. It's about a secret British semi-governmental organisation responsible for supernatural things. Like the Laundry in the Stross books, except not like the Laundry. They operate at a high level, have been around for hundreds of years, are intimately entwined with the governance of the UK. And they're called the Checquy. That's an excellent name for such a group. By itself, that word summons up a feeling of ancient aristocratic bloodlines, of moving in the circles of the nobility, of history and secrecy. I'd have spelled it "chequy", but it's still fabulous. Choosing le mot juste is a massively underrated skill in authors; the best ones manage to pick every word so that that word puts into your head a whole bunch of associated ideas about what they're describing without ever having to say them. Pratchett could do this. Gaiman. Patrick Rothfuss speaks at length about how he agonises over his "anormal word usements" for exactly this reason; look at how Auri's chambers are called Cricklet or Billows, words that tell you, sorta, what they're about without ever saying it. Words are important. Daniel O'Malley clearly is reasonable at this skill.

This makes the few unBritish wordings harder to bear. Phrasings that grate on the ear if you're actually British. Gaiman talks about how "car parks" become "parking lots" in his American translations; O'Malley, who is after all Australian and therefore shouldn't be expected to be immersed in English in the same way as someone here, is careful with words and with story but occasionally stumbles. At one point a retainer refers to Sir Henry Wattleman as "Sir Wattleman", which is wrong, wrong, wrong -- Sir John Smith might be Sir John Smith or Sir John but never, ever Sir Smith. Someone opines that "none of the people in this room are old enough to have a checking account", which is a peculiarly American phrasing -- nobody British would even recognise what a "checking account" is. Myfanwy, our hero, wonders whether if she "can still drive a manual", but nobody here would refer to "a manual"; cars here are all manual, and "an automatic" is the abnormal thing. A manual-shift car is just a car.

In some other book, these things wouldn't jar as much as something written to be so quintessentially British.

But let's pass over these minor unBritish word usages, which are disconcerting but at worst venial rather than mortal sins. Myfanwy Thomas lost her memory but knew ahead of time it would happen and so wrote a detailed series of letters to her post-amnesia self. I can't help but be reminded of The Raw Shark Texts, where "the first Eric Sanderson" wrote to the second, that being himself after memory loss. It's quite compelling as a storyline and also an undeniably good way to explain to the audience a whole bunch of the back story in the guise of explaining it to the protagonist. And it works well here, too. Thomas is a Rook, one of the eight ruling members of the Checquy, the secretive government agency responsible for the supernatural. O'Malley shows a talent in thinking up weird supernatural occurrences which are the Checquy's responsibility and then throwing them in as side-issues to give us a sense of the breadth of the organisation's responsibilities; the list of inhuman talents exhibited by Checquy personnel is both hugely diverse and hugely illustrative.

It's hard to see how this would be read by someone who isn't British. But if you are, and you like the idea of supernatural talents in this existing world, and that of conspiracies and secret societies with historical pedigree, you'll like this. I do, and I did. The denoument is a bit out of nowhere, but maybe that's just my resentment at failing to recognise who the blue-eyed woman was. Anyway, you should read this. It's really good.

Stiletto goodreads

Daniel O'Malley (Checquy Files #2)

Further adventures in the life of the Checquy. The protagonist of the previous book, Myfanwy Thomas, is a more remote and senior character this time (shades of Alodar in Lyndon Hardy's Master of the Five Magics, which chronicles his rise from apprentice to power and then he shows up in the sequel as a mighty archmage background type). Instead, this centres around the Grafters proposed merger with the Checquy, and all the politics and mistrust that falls out of that. O'Malley's gift for thinking up mad Checquy powers to mention in asides is still very much present and very much welcome, along with a few killer amusing lines, such as "No situation is improved by the presence of a giant anus" which actually made me laugh out loud. But there's also pathos and meaning here; the story explores the hatred that Checquy types have for Grafters and that Grafters have for the Checquy; irrational, but baked into them from centuries of history. There's a particularly moving description of the Grafter invasion of the Isle of Wight centuries ago, including some of the atrocities perpetuated by the invaders, and how the whole Checquy were mobilised to fight including the children still at the Estate. And afterwards most of them were dead, and the ones that weren't made a point of telling the younger ones why they should hate.

"Remember," the older apprentice would say. "And pass the memory on to those who come after you."

Getting past that is not easy, and they haven't really managed it by the end of the book, but they're getting there, on both sides. There's also a (pretty underplayed) plot about rivalry between Thomas and her new boss, a great deal of exposition about how the Grafters work (including their firm conviction that what they do is science while the Checquy are unnatural magical horror-beings, in which they have a point), a mystery I didn't see coming, and the unexpected return of Shantay! Still recommended. Now I need to wait another few years for the next one.

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