Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"I'm Sophisticated, Charming, Suave, and Debonair, Professor. But I Have Never Claimed to Be Civilized.": A Review of Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones

Synopsis: If you've read the other Skulduggery Pleasant books by Derek Landy (and you really should have read them by now), you've seen it all before: Some bad guy wants to bring about the end of the world, and Skulduggery and Valkyrie fight valiantly to stop it from happening. A few people get hurt, sure, but everything's all right in the end. Well, not this time.

Review: This was my second time reading The Faceless Ones and I loved it just as much as I did the last time. The synopsis above, taken straight from the book jacket, is telling the truth. Not everything is all right in the end. In fact, the first time I read it, I remember freaking out going "Okay, the next book has to get published. Now." It really was a great cliffhanger ending and it's just too bad that it took me forever to realize that the next book (and the one after that) were not going to be published in the U.S. and that I really should just buy them from the U.K.

I've said a lot already about these books--okay, "raved" might be a better word--so I'm not going to go into how funny it was (hilarious), how exciting it was (edge-of-your-seat), or how well-written it was (very much so). Instead, I'm going to talk about something I haven't yet: the use of magic in these books.

I find Landy's use of magic to be quite unique, actually. There's no wand-waving, no potions, no schools with secret rooms and psychopathic Defense Against the Dark Arts professors. Instead, people are usually born into magic and learn from their parents or they discover they have magic and become apprenticed to someone. This isn't explicitly stated in the books, but the reader is able to glean this from what is said.

There are two types of magic: Elemental and Adept. Elementals gain mastery of air, water, fire, and earth; Adepts specialize in other types of magic: strength, necromancy, symbols, etc. While someone is young they are able to dabble in the different types of magic, but eventually they need to settle on one they like best and their powers are set from then on. They then work to master the type of magic they have decided on.

The characters in these books do not rely on magic for everything. Skulduggery, Valkyrie, Tanith, and Ghastly use weapons and punches just as often as they use fireballs and the ability to walk up walls. Even the bad guys don't use their magic as a first resort all the time. Additionally, magic doesn't act as a way to get out of doing the easy things in life, like cooking or cleaning. It's something to be used for specific purposes--in this case, fighting and killing people.

One of the coolest things about the books is that you're never quite sure what ability a new character might have. Finbar Wrong, a mage who owns a tattoo parlor and seems to be permanently stuck in the 1960s, is a Sensitive, which means he can see the future and act as a medium; Billy-Ray Sanguine, who you met in the previous review, can tunnel through things; China Sorrows, who was introduced in the first book but doesn't reveal her powers until later in the series, uses symbols tattooed on her body and imprinted on objects for magical purposes. Each character is unique and it's fun not to see the same spells being used over and over again.

There is one other type of magic to mention, although it's not one that someone specializes in. Names in these books hold a lot of significance. There are three kinds of names: true name (the name you are born with), given name (the name your parents give you at birth), and taken name (the name you choose yourself in order to bind the given name). The way it works is that your true name, which no one knows but which can be found out, can be used to control you. The given name can also be used against you but can be bound against magic by choosing a taken name. Stephanie Edgley's taken name is Valkyrie Cain and, while no one knows his given name, Skulduggery Pleasant is our dashing hero's taken name. Most of the names used in these books are, in fact, taken names, which is why they seem so odd.

Okay, I lied. I can't get through a review of a Skulduggery Pleasant book without raving about it a little. This is a book review blog, after all. The Faceless Ones is everything that readers have to come to expect from Landy--evil villains, fresh new faces, gruesome fight scenes, and unending humor.

One of the new characters in this book, Fletcher Renn, won't be discussed until the next review, but he is just one of a bunch of new characters that Landy weaves into his growing cast of characters. There are lots of returning favorites as always--Mr. Bliss, China, Billy-Ray, etc.--and they are deftly intermingled with what I've come to see as the literary equivalent of an ensemble cast television show that knows how to use its recurring guest stars. Plot lines carry over, grudges continue, and new ones form.

Skulduggery and Valkyrie get it from all sides during this book. Not only are they fighting against the villainous group called the Diablerie, they are also fighting against the Sanctuary, the magical government led by the dubious Thurid Guild. Skulduggery was fired from his job as Prime Detective in the last book and now he and his band of do-gooders have to try to keep one step ahead of the new Prime Detective, the inept and possibly insane Remus Crux. It keeps the book interesting, fast-paced, and non-monotonous. I just finished book 4, Dark Days, and I can say with the utmost confidence that I have yet to find the books repetitive in any sense of the word.

Some of my favorite quotes from this book:

-"'The panel is gone,' Skulduggery announced. 'The moment we left, they must have changed the locks on us. I don't know whether to feel flattered or insulted.'
'I get the feeling you're going to decide on flattered.'
He shrugged. 'It's a fuzzier feeling.'" (p. 11)

-"Fletcher's grin was back. 'Ground me, you mean? Not a chance, skeleton man.'
Valkyrie scowled. 'He has a name.'
'Oh, yeah, Skulduggery, right? Skulduggery. That's an unusual one. Were you born a skeleton, or were your folks just disturbingly hopeful?'" (p. 77)

-"Valkyrie scowled as she followed him out into the rain. 'I could have just got a small one.'
'Your parents would kill me.'
'Being around you puts my life in constant danger. I've fought monsters and vampires and I've almost died twice, and you think they'd choose to kill you over a tattoo?'
'Parents are funny that way.'" (p. 111)

And now I'm done raving. I give The Faceless Ones, what else?, five out of five stars.

I've finished reading book four and should have that review posted soon. I'm getting into book five tonight because I really want to find out what happens next. I should be back to the books for my monthly theme by Thursday. I'd like to thank my readers for indulging my need to read this series in its entirety. I'll try not to get carried away/distracted again. :)


No comments:

Post a Comment