Monday, June 20, 2011

Review of Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 1

In the book Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Stephanie Edgley faces major changes. When her uncle dies, and a scary killer man breaks into her mansion, and an undead skeleton mage named Skulduggery Pleasant rescues her, and a sorcerer with a scary name threatens to restore evil gods to the planet, what else is she to do but save the world? Well, stay home and live normal, I guess. But that's not what Stephanie does!

Major spoilers in this color. Because I like it better than red.

I've read few books that were better than Skulduggery Pleasant. The dialogue was hysterical. The plot was action-packed. And most of all -- Skulduggery Pleasant.

Skulduggery Pleasant!

I loved him. He was hilarious, charming, unusual, friendly, and the complete opposite of what I expected a horror story's skeletal protagonist to be. A delightful suprise, he wasn't sweet in the way I'm used to admiring, but he was amazingly nice. He was no snob. He treated Valkyrie as a friend and an equal. He didn’t look down on anyone as stupid or unworthy of his attention or conversation. He was a breath of fresh air because I'm tired of the Common Jerk Protagonist. In fact, Skulduggery acted very morally, usually. For instance, even when he'd only known Stephanie for hours, he cared about her, frantically urging her to run from danger when he was trapped and couldn’t help. I can picture so many characters doing so much less, either for want of a heart or for want of an author who cares to show their reaction. This author, however, siezed an opportunity to show Skulduggery's character. He didn't always have the upper hand, and when he didn't, he thought of Valkyrie first. He didn't want anyone -- even near-strangers -- to get hurt. Furthermore, although he saved her quite a bit, he never treated Stephanie like a millstone. And although the book's villain was Skulduggery's archenemy, Skulduggery didn't fight for ulterior motives. He didn't even pretend to. He fought against evil because it was evil and protected people because it was good. For example, Serpine had hurt Skulduggery in the worst possible ways, but Skulduggery didn’t kill him. That would be revenge. He put Serpine under ARREST. That’s what the good guys are supposed to do. Well, I mean he DID kill Serpine, to save Valkyrie, but who cares? He wasn’t going to if he didn’t have to. Overall, Skulduggery led the story as a likable, heroic main character, and it is supreme.

At the same time, Skulduggery wasn't a boring perfect character. He had weaknesses, failings, and flaws. Most are called out, which is more than can be said for the Common Jerk Protagonist. While cordial most of the book, Skul could get crabby when, for example, the Elders chastised him and didn't believe him about Serpine. Actually, Skulduggery is apparently quite unpopular with the magical community, which endears the bony outcast to me all the more. He's also not so scrupulous all the time. He stated he had trouble keeping friends because of his . . . misdeeds (although, just admitting it isn't good enough for me; I hope he actually changes somehow). Nevertheless, he stays friends with Valkyrie, and though he's her mentor, he's not an all-wise, all-powerful type like Professor Xavier who can inexplicably freeze all the humans in a museum. Skulduggery is much more interesting. He himself gets in trouble, has to be saved, and struggles to defeat the bad guys. They pose an actual threat to him even though he’s the veteran crime fighter and Valkyrie is the novice. That makes every obstacle a challenge and much more exciting. He's also NOT the wiser, smarter, more mature of the duo. He and Valkyrie are pretty much on equal footing, except when it comes to martial arts and magic. So he's a nice protagonist, an imperfect hero, a good skeleton, a happy detective, an only semi-wise and semi- powerful mentor, and a moral . . . vigilante? He seems all the more real for breaking all these stereotypes.

Sadly, in a couple parts, Skulduggery acted in ways that contrasted with his caring manner toward Stephanie and annoyed me because he wasn't called out on them. First, he described a partner he had who died on their first mission. "A messy death too,” he said, but not very remorsefully it seemed. This made me think he didn't care. Maybe he stays strong through his heartaches by acting light-hearted. Maybe it doesn't mean he didn't care about his other partner, but it still bugs me that he can talk about it like that. Secondly, later on, Valkyrie was captured by a monster, and Skulduggery was left to attack the villain, which he promptly took off to do. Does Skulduggery care about Stephanie or doesn’t he? One on hand, perhaps stoic Skulduggery was just sticking with the mission -- for the good of the world after all. On the other hand, you’d think he'd worry more about Valkyrie. Then again, maybe he knew she was alright. Who knows?

Stephanie (or Valkyrie Cain, as she comes to call herself) is merely likable. I and many other kids relate to the fact she wanted more than her dull, ordinary life. Other than that, she was nearly perfect and made few mistakes, which isn't relatable. She was mature, witty, independent, smart, and capable. She got herself out of as many scrapes as Skulduggery got her out of, and she got him out of a few. This is all great but not terribly interesting. Though refreshingly competent, Val had few surprising traits, no serious personal or psychological issues, and no vices to overcome. These would help to make her more human, more singular. Still, she was an adequate heroine, not grating like most main characters and the following.

China Sorrows is evil. She put a spell on Stephanie so she couldn’t help Skulduggery when he was captured, and by the second book, everyone seems to have forgotten. Plus, her character is kind of stiff and boring. I'm being totally mature and not holding a grudge about this, but it's the simple truth. She's evil. Just had to say it for it is pure wisdom . . . PLLLBBTT!!! Take THAT, China!

The author crafted a fantastic but rather frightening plot. Well, at least for a sensitive blogger like me. For the good of my nighttime thoughts, I skipped a couple chapters, chapters I will not go into, because I can't, because I skipped them. Regardless, from what I did read, the book was fast-paced and enthralling.

With its humor, action, and amazing characters, Skulduggery Pleasant is the one book you search through 50 to find. Thank goodness I helped you find it! Okay, I probably didn't have much to do with it, but just in case.


Review of SP Playing with Fire

In Skulduggery Pleasant Playing with Fire by Derek Landy, Stephanie Edgley is now Valkyrie Cain, descendent of the Ancients, apprentice in magic to Skulduggery Pleasant, and determined to save the world from another evil sorcerer with a scary name (Vengeous).

Coming second in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, Playing with Fire was much like the first book but even more action-packed and hilarious.

After the first scene, I expected Skulduggery would disappoint, as so many favorite characters do. He again seemed uncaring. He came to Valkyrie's rescue late because he had to tie his shoelace. Granted, he said he knew she could handle it, and she did, but it was unnerving. Maybe, though, it only showed that he was irresponsible, not uncaring. (Valkyrie would seem less foolish for trusting a sometimes-irresponsible person than for trusting an uncaring person.) However, Skul soon became as friendly and funny as in the first book. He acted superior to no one. Not even Vengeous, with whom Skul exchanged witticisms for threats. Besides producing some of the funniest lines in the book, Skulduggery showed he wasn’t mean, pathetic, or cliché enough to return insults and he wasn’t above talking with evil people like they were people.

I had one problem concerning Valkyrie. She fights crime almost daily, but I got the impression she runs on two hours of sleep a night. She’d pass out doing normal stuff on that much sleep. Maybe I'm wrong, though, or maybe she used magic to compensate for lack of sleep.

At the core, the plot was similar to the last one, but this isn't a book I’d read for novelty of plot. I read it for the side-splittingly hysterical dialogue and lovable characters. Everyone should. Read it, I mean.


Review of SP The Faceless Ones

In Skulduggery Pleasant The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy, Valkyrie Cain and Skulduggery Pleasant must solve multiple murders, protect the last of the teleporters, and prevent the return of the Faceless Ones...But just from the title, you can guess how that turns out.

Most series get worse with time, but Skulduggery Pleasant only gets better. The Faceless Ones was the best book so far, and you know how awesome the first two were. What made the book so amazing? The best of the characters shone through, the plot intensified to previously unparalleled levels, and the best, worst villains finally appeared.

In this book, I grew to love Kenspeckle He was very human, funny, and grumpy, but not cruel. Apparently, he's a something of a pacifist (like me), and he was a good friend to Valkyrie. I also loved Valkyrie’s parents. Like her, they were likable and funny, if not exactly fascinating. Tanith was fun, but she almost dies in every book. I was pleased Ghastly came back. I was afraid he might be one of those characters who stays "dead" as a symbol of heart-wrenching sacrifice, even though we never really knew him and don't particularly care he's dead. Now we have to chance to get to know him. I hope we learn more about Solomon Wreath in the next book. China had some part in Skulduggery’s troubles, which isn't surprising. Aside from her, it’s nice to have noble characters who are human and humane, without blatant cruelty or stupidity...usually (see second to last paragraph). Val and Skul don’t beat people up unless they have to, which they usually do, but if they can, they take the bad guys to jail. Yep, yep. Good stuff.

The bad guy, Batu, seemed suspect one moment and merely annoying the next, which makes it difficult to guess he’s the murderer. Skulduggery was the same as always: marvelous. Funny and friendly. Teleporter Fletcher Renn annoyed me, especially since he's hinted to be Valkyrie’s future love interest. Still, he's mostly okay.

Actually, I hoped the hints would amount to nothing. Val called him good-looking, but didn’t exactly swoon, so that could mean nothing. She helped him instead of helping Skulduggery up at the end, but that could also mean nothing, just a reason for Skulduggery to be funny. Nonetheless, I hear Val and Fletcher date in the next book. I guess, secretly, I feared what it might mean if the author put together a shallow match like Valkyrie and Fletcher, when he seems able to create deeper relationships. He could make another bad match, like *shudders* Skulduggery and China. If she and Skul got together, I’d..I' know, I'd just...She’s AWFUL. She's uncaring and unheroic, and he’s kind and a total hero. Of course, that would be worst case scenario, but the Fletcherie pairing made me suspicious.

Actually, I was also quite saddened by that scene at the end since she did look to Fletcher first and minutes later the Faceless Ones pulled Skulduggery into their dimension. I was afraid that Fletcher would become more important to Valkyrie than Skulduggery, and she and Skulduggery would become less of a team. I felt bad for Skulduggery. He seems to have human feelings I can relate to, and if I were him, I’d make jokes about her helping Fletcher first but really I'd be sad and afraid I’d lost my best friend to someone she cared more about. But I guess Skulduggery does have more self-esteem than me and he’s used to being alone, so maybe he really wasn’t hurt. I felt like he would be, though, and just minutes later, he was pulled into another dimension full of evil gods.

Even without the Val and Fletcher incident, it was tragic enough we lost Skulduggery. I actually thought he might not come back. I was so happy to find he would. But how long would that take? Val might need another book to DECIDE to learn necromancy, another book to learn it, and another to rescue Skulduggery. Actually, that could improve the series even more because the storyline so far was "Save the World, Prevent the Faceless Ones from Returning." They did return and they were beaten. The books could have a whole new kind of storyline with "Rescue Skulduggery." Furthermore, if Val had to learn necromancy and fend for herself, it might add to her character. Nevertheless, I loved Skulduggery first and foremost, so I was sad. Then again, the author actually took out one of the two main characters. Most authors would be terrified of such an enormous change, but it's amazing! I definitely appreciated that.

Although I was sad, and partly because of it, this was still the best book. It made me care. The plot, simply put, was: everything that can go wrong does go wrong. It induced a wonderful kind of terror. And this book was IT. Everyone feared the evil gods would come back, and they finally did.

Also, the story finally seemed integrated with the rest of the series. The other books stood alone, and so did this one, but it also connected with the other books in ways that affected the plot. It even brought back previously less-important elements (like Billy-Ray Sanguine, the hilarious Finbar Wrong, and the mystery of Valkyrie's reflection). I didn't expect they'd be back, and I welcome their return. I prefer integrated stories to stand-alone ones because the former seem grander. That's another reason I loved this book.

I noticed something I've heard other people mention. The characters questioned whether a 14-year-old should the live the dangerous life Valkyrie does. The book gave no real answer. I’d accept that Valkyrie chooses this for herself, so Skulduggery isn’t to blame. She'd seek out trouble even without him. But if the book gave this answer, it was very brief.

Also, it asked whether sorcerers are superior to "mortals." It gave no answer there at all. Valkyrie showed distaste for the idea but didn't seem to come to a definite conclusion. I’d point out that your worth doesn't change based on what you do or what you can do. You have inherent value embedded in your soul no matter what, and that’s what makes us equal. But it doesn’t say anything like that.

Another part that bugged me. Usually, Skul and Val are somewhat careful about hurting people, but they readily and probably unnecessarily tricked Scapegrace and got him badly beat up by Cleavers. He probably deserved it, but still, really? Not classy.

I almost think I've criticized this book more than the first two, but I still say it's the best, and that should be a sign of how magnificent it is. It's easy to pick out the black spots on almost flawless white paper. Aside from those minor speckles, it only lacked a deeper emotional message, and made up for it with exquisite characters, plot, humor, and action.


Review of SP Dark Days

In Skulduggery Pleasant Dark Days by Derek Landy, Valkyrie Cain must rescue Skulduggery from the Land of the Faceless Ones (not sure what it's really called) and defeat a band of criminals trying to kill her. She keeps busy.

I expected this book to be even more exceptional than Faceless Ones, so I was probably more disappointed in it that it deserved, but I enjoyed it too.

To begin, the romance. As I said, I feared Fletcherie would make Valkyrie and Skulduggery less of a team. When Val entered the portal, though, China thought to herself that Val and Skul were meant to form this bond and everyone else must watch from the sidelines. It's true. I give bountiful credit to Landy for knowing his story so well. (Many authors don't know the first thing about their characters, and it's terribly annoying.) Landy knows Skul and Val likely will never grow apart. They're the perfect friends. That at least put my mind at peace and made me pretty much okay with Fletcherie.

Next, the plot. In this book, they got Skul back fast, which is good because he's stupendous, but it seemed too rushed, too quick to return to the same kind of plot. Save the world. The only difference was the villains weren't working for the Faceless Ones but for revenge. On the bright side, Scapegrace underwent appreciable changes (into a zombie king of sorts) and didn’t just die (he’s a likable idiot). Billy-Ray also underwent some major changes and could no longer use his powers (comfortably). Hilariously, the Revengers’ Club almost exclusively targeted Valkyrie, the fifteen-year-old girl who put them to shame. Regardless, they’re common sorcerer criminals, which is a step down from evil gods. (That was my clever reference to The Road to El Dorado. Ahem.) Aside from all that, the plot did captivate. Things went wrong. A lot. Good fun. Fun to read, not experience.

Next, Skulduggery. He was immensely lovable, but not AS. He almost seemed to resent being rescued, which seems snobbish and not like him at all. Then he almost shot Weeper (whom I actually like), seemed not to care when a friendly vampire faced danger, and seemed not to care about some poor guy who’s true name was known and abused by many. That’s not like him either. He’s supposed to be all heroic. That was my first reaction, and still is, but now I recognize another aspect of it. The author actually said he was excited to create a character who was darker than he initially seemed. I admit that's exciting. Now it doesn't disappoint me AS much that Skul acted a bit postal, because now I know that Derek knows it’s unhealthy behavior.

Furthermore, this book reveals Skulduggery let an innocent man stay in jail. I was glad to find that out, because everyone says Skul has done bad, bad things, but no one ever says WHAT. Now we know of one criminal act, but Billy-ray actually called Skul a psycho, so many more must remain.

About Valkyrie. Awesomely, she learned necromancy to rescue Skul. She even faced a Faceless One, (although, yes, it was strangely slow and stupid this time). Then, however, she lost to a powerless Billy-Ray. What's the point of her learning all these powers if she can’t even beat a powerless Billy-ray? In a way, it's realistic because, as always, Skul and Val never win easy, but still, it’s disappointing.

Though it lacked some of the oomph of the last book, Dark Days was exciting, funny (especially Finbar), and it had a gorgeous cover.


Review of SP Mortal Coil

With Skulduggery safely home, all is well. To Val and Skul, "well" means (1) Valkyrie has to die and hopefully come back to life in order to keep herself, hopefully, from destroying the world, and (2) Val, Skul, and all their friends must keeps the Remnants both from destroying the world and from using Valkyrie to do it, as they suppose her to be their deity and they like to possess their deity and try to kill her friends.

Skulduggery Pleasant Mortal Coil
by Derek Landy

Mortal Coil didn't impress me as much as the previous books, but to be honest, if I'd read it first, I'd consider it nearly the best book in the published world.

I wished the book had included more Val and Skul together time and more Skulduggery. The former would lead to the latter, which is one reason I wanted it, but I also love scenes where Val and Skul pal around. Their friendship seemed under attack this book. Aside from spending many scenes with people who weren't Skulduggery, Val apparently fears him, perhaps rightly so. He really might kill her to save the world, which is an awful good way to ruin a friendship. Although I'd understand if he did, I hope he wouldn't. I hope she's wrong. But even if she is, it could tear them apart. The friendship seems far less perfect now, and I mourn it.

Out of nowhere, a romance popped up between Valkyrie and Caelan, the vampire from the last book. Neither of them indicated they were interested in each other in Dark Days. I knew it was possible, since they're both young and beautiful, and there's no reason for characters to be young and beautiful except to be love interests, right? It's just, no strong hints had appeared. Here, though, it was full blown forbidden love. Secondly, through the chapter Valkyrie and Caelan spend together, the dialogue sounded unnatural, even the inner dialogue. When Caelan tells her they were meant to be everything or nothing to each other. When Val thinks about how his eyes burn into her soul, or something. Real people don't talk or think like that. Do they? I guess I wouldn't know. Maybe people just change when they fall in love. But it was worse because of how like Twilight it was. Caelan might seem different from Edward because Caelan even said he's not a brooding romantic figure but a monster. Except that's basically what Edward said too. Caelan even stalked Val to protect her. (He loves the side of her she shows her family. I see a Reflection/Caelan pairing in the future, since Val is taken and the Reflection is ALWAYS the side Caelan loves. The living reflection and the walking undead. Do Skulduggery vampires have reflections? If not, then she completes him. Aww. I actually wouldn’t mind that at all. It was foreshadowed much more than the Val and Caelan relationship.)

Now, I don't hate OR love Twilight, and I'm not saying Landy meant for it to happen but the two relationships are so similar and Twilight is so famous that, if he only tried, he could easily avoid similarities. He should, too, because I felt like I was reading recycled material. I felt that way again during the sword fight that mirrored a Princess Bride scene, especially since I dislike Princess Bride to begin with. I want my reading material to be original. I can sometimes appreciate when a book references another work in just a word -- like when Skul tries "mellon" as a password -- but not in whole scenes or character relationships. Catching one imitation, I get paranoid and suspicious of the rest of the book. I wonder if it’s okay to laugh at the jokes or if someone else invented them in a story I don’t know and I should be annoyed. Nevertheless, Skulduggery has been so original so far that I’m not really worried, and though I cringed through the Caelan chapter, I almost forgot about it after the Scapegrace chapter that followed.

Scapegrace becomes more pathetic and more sympathetic with each book. In said chapter, he visited two rival funeral homes which I knew right away were Skulduggery's friendly neighborhood funeral service providers. What a sweet twist. I easily believed it would happen too. He went there asking them to preserve decomposing bodies (his own and his sidekick's, but the funeral homes didn't know that). It was hysterical! If a more questionable author had written this, I might have worried they were making fun of religion, but I don’t think Landy would do that, whether or not he believes in God. Therefore, the chapter was light-hearted Scapegrace fun.

The other best chapter introduced Valkyrie to Doctor Nye. I knew that Valkyrie had to die, but I didn’t expect her to die when she got in the coach that carried her to Doctor Nye. I thought she’d get there, they’d do some spelly thing, and everything would go dark, but no. Actually, the book vividly detailed her sensations as she died. It surprised me in a delicious way. When she arrived at her destination, Nye was creepy because apparently its eyes had been sewn shut and the ends of the thread still appeared. Valkyrie passed a dismembered head who actually blinked at her, implying it was in the same state Val was in and understood all that happened even if it didn’t care. Creepy. Then Val watched as Nye cut her open. Creepy. However, the exclamation point came at the end of the chapter when Nye decided to keep Val forever and dissect her. CREEPY. By then, Val had no way out. Skulduggery didn’t know where she was, and she didn't even have the will to escape. She has to escape, we think. She’s the main character. But there’s no way. And the thought of Valkyrie the Corpse being completely dissected and stashed away in a meat house for eternity, knowing the whole time what was happening but unable to care or fret or plan or feel? That is a chilling thought. I wouldn’t have liked it if Val COULD feel pain, but she couldn’t. The most exquisitely frightening chapter, "Nye" (as I think it's called) is also one of the best in the series.

As for the rest of the characters, Finbar and Skulduggery were hilarious as always. Ghastly and Tanith struck up a romance that, like Val and Caelan's, seemed out of nowhere (or maybe, I suppose, I'm just horrendous at catching romantic undertones). Other than that, I don’t object to it. We lost Tanith to possession. She wasn’t one of my favorites, so I don’t mind. Besides, there’s no way they won’t cure her. (If Nye can find the soul, why can’t he find the remnant and remove it?) We also lost my second favorite character, Kenspeckle. I'm not at all distraught about this, which is just plain weird. It don’t know what it is. Perhaps it's Landy’s skill in making us feel what Val feels and she didn’t feel much when it happened. Or perhaps it was the way Kenspeckle's death was presented, so suddenly and matter-of-factly. (I was like, “Is he dead? He is? Are you sure he’s not just wounded? You should probably check.”) Or perhaps it's both. It seems logical that Val would feel so little about it right now, but hopefully the next book addresses it again and she feels more strongly about it. I do not want to see a rug pulled over it. Who’s going to heal broken bones and crab at Skulduggery now?

The plot seemed drawn out, probably because, for some strange reason, I expected the characters to resolve the Remnant thing early and focus on another issue. It still entertained me though. It was exciting, action-packed, plot-twisting, all that Skulduggery jazz. (By the way, I knew a remnant would turn Val into Darquesse. I didn't say anything to anyone because I didn't want to be wrong, but I knew it!)

Fantastic but not as fantastic as the others, SP Mortal Coil receives the following rating:


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer List

I haven't forgotten you! I've just been editing five posts all at once so that I may post them all at once. They're reviews of Skulduggery Pleasant, and I hope to get Derek Landy, the series' author, to read them. *Insert big hopeful smile here.* It might seem like a long-shot to get a famous author to read an obscure blog, but Derek is awesome about interacting with his fans and reading their work, so it's not inconceivable that he'd read this. (I hope I didn't just jinx it.) Even if he doesn't, I'll have five fresh posts for anyone interested in phenomenal books.

I really want to post a summer to-do list. Other people have posted them on their blogs, so I'll just, um, copy them?

1. Finish Skulduggery reviews and ask Derek to read them

2. Find another fantastic series to read (it's excruciatingly hard to find fantastic fantasy books)

3. Read, read, read (Just relax and read. I haven't done so in many summers.)

4. Write at least 13 short stories

5. Finish any other stories

6. Watch, watch, watch (I love movies. So many movies, so little time.)

7. Blog, blog, blog (So many ideas, so little time!)

8. The stuff I SHOULD do (reading physics, reviewing chemistry, preparing for college)

9. Try to meditate (see, 'cause I'm not even sure what that entails)

10. Try to make habit of drinking hot beverages every morning (to avoid colds like I have now)

11. Do new stuff, it's fun (Doesn't have to be "exciting," as long as it's new.)

I may add more later.

So far this summer, I've been productively lazy. I've already done something new by helping out at a local school to sort of herd children around in their summer camps. I got paid too! I won't stop there, though. I'm wondering about loitering. You know, hanging around town, going wherever I feel like going however slowly I feel like going. That sounds like enormous fun. And yes, I have a cold. Sniffle. It helps me drink hot beverages, though. I think I MAY have meditated, but as I said, I'm not sure what that means. Too lazy to Google it. Haven't done much I SHOULD. Haven't blogged much. Seen and enjoyed quite a few movies (first to mind are Inception and Toy Story 3, which were both okay). Haven't finished any stories. Started a couple short stories. Read several books (most only halfway through). No luck yet. Sometimes I wonder about my goal to find a new obsess-able series (or two or three). It distracts me from serious work. But I just need something to really care about, you know? "We act as if comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about." -- Charles Kingsly (Of course, I'm also enthusiastic about comfort and luxury...)

Now and then, hopefully once a week, I'll update you on how I'm doing on this list. I'll definitely update you at the end of the summer.

Look out for the reviews. I'm close.