Oh, the cheering that went on in my household the day the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book arrived! I always listen to the audio versions of these books - I have since the very first one, which I originally listened to after it was nominated for an award for best children's audio production. And they are phenomenal. Rupert Degas does an amazing job narrating these stories, giving characters such distinctive voices, ratcheting up the tension with his reading style - and the chapters have music and sound effects that give the books an extra-spooky twist.
My children, ages 9 and 11, adore Skulduggery almost as much as I do. They love to listen to the books over and over again, particularly at bedtime, and while I think it's great, and I would have loved it when I was their age, when I step back I have to laugh at the idea of these books as bedtime material for children! They are dark and creepy, not a little violent, but there is also humor and the inspiring camaraderie of a few staunch companions standing firm against the rising tide of evil that threatens the world.
The previous book in this series ended with a merciless cliffhanger, so we were all relieved to finally continue the story. It is nearly impossible to review this book without giving away spoilers, so please, if you find the idea of dark humor, action-adventure, otherworldly intrigue and gripping mystery appealing, please start with the first book, Skulduggery Pleasant (the newer versions call it Scepter of the Ancients - it's the same book).
For those who are interested in the fourth one, I will say that the book opens with Valkyrie determined to rescue Skulduggery from the predicament that befell him at end of the previous book. She is aided by a necromancer, Solomon Wreath, who has taught her some of that dark art, and she has learned it because she knows that in order to get Skulduggery back, she needs more power than she currently has. Solomon appears to have his own agenda, but Valkyrie finds that she is beginning to trust him despite her earlier misgivings.
Trying to save Skulduggery is only one of Valkyrie's challenges. Ominous visions have assailed the psychic community, and several familiar villains have banded together with some new ones, forming a pernicious group that is determined to bring down the Dublin Sanctuary.
I enjoyed this fourth installment in the series. The plot was not as tight as previous books, and the pacing not quite as relentless, but the characters were explored in greater detail, and I liked that. I was massively disappointed, however, that the signature music and sound effects were lacking in this audio production. This audiobook came from the UK and has not yet been released in the U.S., as far as I can tell, so maybe those things will be added later? There was also a fairly long sequence in which the reader swapped the voices in a conversation (fairly devoid of dialog tags) between two characters, and I was surprised that wasn't caught before they released it - it was a bit disorienting to hear Springheeled Jack talk with Scapegrace's voice, and vice versa.
Many intriguing questions are finally answered in this volume, and many more are raised. Valkyrie is older now - she started out at 12 and ages one year with each book, which makes her 15 now. She has come a long way since those early days, but she is still young and still finds herself struggling to defend the validity of her choices. As Stephanie grows older, the books deal with more sophisticated and thought-provoking issues. The villains are certainly deliciously evil and fairly two-dimensional, but in this book we see their motivations examined more closely than before, and they offer a few surprises. The books seem to be veering toward progressively darker territory, and while the humor is still there, it does not appear to be as prevalent as in earlier books. It has become clear that there is much at stake, and as Valkyrie travels deeper into this magical, dangerous world, she is becoming ever more aware of exactly what she stands to lose.
I am anxious to see how the story continues and, with the next book slated to be published in the fall, I'm pleased that we won't have too terribly long to wait.
Books in the Skulduggery Pleasant series:
1. Skulduggery Pleasant
2. Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire
3. Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones
4. Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days
5. Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil (forthcoming)
Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days by Derek Landy (HarperCollins, 2010)
Also reviewed at:
The Book Zone (for Boys): "It contains all of the Derek Landy trademarks that we have come to love so much - great characters, both good and evil; tense action scenes that will have your heart beating so fast you will think it is about to explode; great dialogue laced with the scintillating banter that we have to come love so much; and, of course, many many moments of spine-tingling horror."
Dead Possum Center: "Overall a fantastic book, and totally worth a detention, I have to thank my chemistry teacher, who helped me greatly to read this book by not showing up to classes."