Thursday, April 14, 2011

"You, Fletcher Renn, Are Good For Our Health....You're Like Our Own Little Vegetable.": A Review of Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days

Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days is the fourth book in Derek Landy's phenomenal series about a skeleton mage detective and his young sidekick, Valkyrie Cain. I was really sad when I finished this one because I knew that there was only one left to read (until book six comes out). But then I got over it because the ending was so freaking good.

Synopsis: Valkyrie Cain (a.k.a. Stephanie Edgley) is only fifteen years old but she's already racked up an impressive number of dangerous enemies...all of which want to kill her. This time around, those enemies have joined forces behind the evil Dreylan Scarab, who has just been released from prison after serving a 200-year sentence for assassination. Skulduggery and Valkyrie must battle foe after foe and stop Scarab's attempt to detonate a deadly weapon of mass destruction. Meanwhile, visions of a dark future brought about by the mysterious Darquesse are plaguing Sensitives all over Ireland...and Valkyrie will get a glimpse at her own destiny.

Review: Oh my gods, so much going on in this book. In a good way. Landy packs so much plot, character, and action into Dark Days and he does it brilliantly.

This book brings together henchmen and minor villains from the last three novels as they form the "Revenger's Club". Inept wannabe killer Vaurien Scapegrace, psychopathic Texan Billy-Ray Sanguine, deadly vampire Mr. Dusk, and crazy ex-Prime Detective Remus Crux fall in with Dreylan Scarab to bring death and destruction to Ireland's magical community. Each man has his own agenda--most of them want to kill Valkyrie Cain--but they force themselves to work together for the time being.

Returning also is Fletcher Renn, the last Teleporter on the face of the Earth. Renn was introduced in The Faceless Ones and was a pain in the arse for most of it. He redeems himself in this book, however, as he willingly joins Skulduggery and his band of world-saving, bad-guy-killing mages. He goes from being a self-centered, big-haired twit to being a self-centered, big-haired likable character.

I can't go into too much plot detail without revealing too much about the other books. In fact, the beginning of this book begins with Valkyrie searching for a particular item, but I can't even tell you about that because it would give away the ending of book three. Landy is a master at carrying plot lines over from book to book, letting each book dovetail off of the last. This means, of course, that they could never be stand-alone novels, but once you read one you want to read them all so I guess that's a good thing.

What I can tell you is that this book has three main plot threads--the first continues the thread from the last book's cliffhanger, the second is the main thread of the story (the Revenger's Club), and the third begins the thread that will be continued in book five. It's really amazing how these stories interweave and connect with one another and part of the fun of reading the books is that Landy gives you just enough of the next book that you're practically salivating for it by the halfway mark of the one you're currently reading.

There are no real plot holes in Landy's books. If a character's whereabouts are unknown by the end of one book, you know that you'll find out what happened to them in the next book or the one after that. Even though most of these characters are trying to kill one another, Landy uses them in such a way that readers begin to see them as being a sort of family. Other characters may come in and out from time to time, but the main characters and many of the minor characters are always there, even if they're just on the periphery.

Take Vaurien Scapegrace, for instance. He was introduced in the first chapter of book two. He has now appeared in every novel since (including Mortal Coil, which I'm reading now and had to force myself to put down in order to write this review). In some books he only plays a minor (albeit important) role, but in others he's integral to the plot. He and the other minor characters also undergo changes, which is often unseen in other novels. At heart, he stays the same weaselly,  inept character, but he becomes different in many ways as well. In this novel, for instance, he becomes a zombie.

And that's one of the other strengths of these books. You're never quite sure what's going to happen next. You're also never sure how he's going to use his characters. He has introduced vampires and zombies into his books but he has made these creatures his own. They aren't like other vampires and zombies you've seen. They're unique, often funny, and definitely preferable to the same old rehashed monsters in other novels.

One of the interesting things about Dark Days is that it moves away from the plot line of the first three books. Those books focused on the Faceless Ones, terrible and evil gods that some of the more sinister characters worship, and their followers' attempts to bring them back into the world. This book (and, as far as I can tell, book five) begins its own plot arc that I'm sure will continue through book six. It's almost as if every three books is a season of a television show, with twists and turns leading up to a cliffhanger finish. Dark Days begins the Darquesse plot arc and, although I won't go into details, I'm really looking forward to see how it plays out.

I won't repeat myself here about things that I've already said about the first three books, but those comments apply here as well. Landy is always in top form and he continues to outdo himself. Dark Days is no exception.

Some of my favorite quotes:

-"'Can I just point something out?' Fletcher asked. 'That is an awful plan. On a scale of one to ten--the Trojan Horse being a ten and General Custer versus all those Indians being a one--your plan is a zero.'" (p. 54)

-"'I don't talk to The Man,' Finbar scowled. 'The Man keeps me down.'
'In what way?' asked Valkyrie, genuinely puzzled.
Finbar hesitated. 'General ways,' he said at last. 'Just...general ways, keeping me down, oppressing me.'" (p. 153)

-"'You can try and stop us,' Sanguine said, 'but I have a feelin' you'll be just a tad busy fending off the army of Hollow Men that are about to jump out at you.'
At that, a section of wall opened up and a single Hollow Man stumbled out and stood there. Sanguine pursed his lips. A moment passed.
'Awkward,' he murmured." (p. 317)

I know these ratings are getting predictable, but I really have to give Dark Days five out of five stars.


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