Book Review: “Last Stand of Dead Men” by Derek Landy

Things have been busy, which means I find precious little time to sit down and type blog entries.  So, I fail pretty hard at blogging, but I struggle gamely onward!  The nice thing about running all over the place for workshops, conferences, classes, and the like is that I have ample time to read between appointments and commitments.  That means that, while I haven’t been posting, I have been reading.  That last bit means I have a few reviews to post.  As I have a few moments while I work at the circulation desk tonight, I’m going to try to hammer those posts out!

Here we go . . .

First of all, this is the 8th book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series . . . so it is going to be near impossible to review this without giving away spoilers.  I will do my best, but know that I will likely fail.  I mean, even the publisher description is going to give some major things from the previous books away.  Just keep that in mind and don’t try to kill me, please.  🙂

Publisher summary:

War has finally come.

But it’s not a war between good and evil, or light and dark – it’s a war between Sanctuaries. For too long, the Irish Sanctuary has teetered on the brink of world-ending disaster, and the other Sanctuaries around the world have had enough. Allies turn to enemies, friends turn to foes, and Skulduggery and Valkyrie must team up with the rest of the Dead Men if they’re going to have any chance at all of maintaining the balance of power and getting to the root of a vast conspiracy that has been years in the making.

But while this war is only beginning, another war rages within Valkyrie herself. Her own dark side, the insanely powerful being known as Darquesse, is on the verge of rising to the surface. And if Valkyrie slips, even for a moment, then Darquesse will burn the world and everyone in it.

So . . . yeah, that in and of itself gives a lot away.  The whole Valkyrie is Darquessse, the nigh all powerful entity bent on remaking the world in fire and pain.  But there is a lot more going on too . . . which I’ll get to now.

My Review: 4/5 Skulls

Okay, this book is great and amazing and I hate it.  As always, Landy’s new addition to the series is fun, hilarious, exciting, frustrating, and all around fantastic.  You will be laughing one moment and biting your nails, afraid to turn the page, the next moment.  This novel has all the addictive qualities of Landy’s previous books, characters that shine bright as the sun or seethe with the intoxicating malevolence of the darkest abyss, a setting that feel fantastic yet real, and pee-your-pants humor seated right next to hide-under-the-covers terror.  And as with all Landy books, he almost seems to have a gleeful disregard for the incredible characters he creates.  This is exemplified by how he treats Tanith Low, a topic I touched on during my review of “The Maleficent Seven.” As the tagline at the bottom of the cover states: “No one is safe.”  This is all too true as things we feared would happen finally come to pass, characters we love are betrayed, characters we love are slain, characters we love to hate are slain, and characters we love and love to hate are betrayed AND slain.  There isn’t a single character that survived the previous books that goes untouched by the happenings in this book.  The tense intrigues, brutal single combat and pitched battles, and the threat of sinister groups and powerful beings bent on world destruction all combine for an intensely satisfying adventure.  Even if you kind of want to scream at Landy by the end of it.

This novel brings to a head an overarching storyline from the last 3 or 4 books.  The Irish Sanctuary has been at the epicenter repeated incidents that have resulted in the world being saved from the brink of annihilation and the rest of the sanctuaries have had enough.  In the last volume, the other sanctuaries formed the Supreme Council (a kind of UN for magic people) to put sanctions on the Irish Sanctuary in order to have more insurance that the world won’t be decimated by another near-apocalyptic event.  The Irish sorcerers believe this to be a thinly veiled attempt at a power grab .  Through repeated political intrigues and clandestine operations, both sides have moved against the other that have culminated in the slaying of operatives both Irish and Supreme Council.  War is declared, lines are drawn, sanctuaries choose their sides and mobilize in defense of or opposition to the Irish Sanctuary.  Throughout all this, there is an undercurrent of something more sinister happening.  Warlocks (violent and powerful, though extremely reclusive, magic users) have been killed by mortals and they are mobilizing to strike back at those responsible.  They gather allies from those who don’t submit to any Sanctuary’s authority and the ripples of their actions will shake the very balance of the magical world.  Not to mention the reflection that has been living Valkyrie’s normal life for her has become something different . . . something alive . . .and it is ready to take over Valkyrie’s life, even (or maybe especially) if it involves killing her.  To make matters infinitely worse for our heroes, Valkyrie is losing control over Darquesse.  The part of her who is bent on the destruction of the world and everyone in it is becoming stronger and all it takes is one little slip and the part of Valkyrie that is herself will be gone forever.

Upon this backdrop, we see the triumphant return of beloved characters.  Secondary characters that we adore return for more page-time.  This includes Scapegrace and Thrasher in their new bodies!  We even see the reunion of the Dead Men, the legendary combat team Skulduggery lead during the last great magic war.  Granted, as the title indicates, it isn’t a very long reunion and doesn’t end happily; in fact you’ll be foaming at the mouth angry and cursing Landy’s name all while being entirely unable to put the book down to give a more physically destructive voice to your frustration . . . which, all things considered, is probably a good thing.  There are more characters, both new and old, in the first 10 chapters of this book than there are in the entirety of “Bleak House” and you end up enjoying every moment you share with them and you can actually keep them straight (which are things I definitely can not say about that Dicken’s tome, or many other books for that matter).  Landy’s mastery of his characters is one of the many reasons he has won the awards and accolades this series has garnered (including best Irish Book of the Decade for the first novel) and also goes a long way to explaining why we keep reading the books, despite what horrors he visits upon our beloved characters.

The only complaint I have about this addition to the series is the same complaint I have for the last two books: it doesn’t feel long enough.  There is SO much happening that, even with it’s 576 pages, I find myself desperate for more detail.  Especially when you factor in all the subplots and twists, it really feels like it could have been better served by splitting it into two different novels and adding another 100 pages to each.  That MAY be my greed for more of the series talking, but I don’t believe that’s the case.  Some things that seem like they are to become a huge deal don’t seem to really reach the desired climax or given adequate room to run.  Sadly, this includes the Darquesse storyline which raises to an impending climax and then seems to simply dissipate before showing up again right at the end.  I found myself often wondering “where the hell did that plot go?” or “what happened to that group of characters after (insert major plot point here) happened.”   However, none of that had any lasting impact on my enjoyment of the novel and I anticipate many of these questions and seemingly dangling plot points will be addressed in the next book . . . now if I can just have the patience to last that long!

As with the other books in the series, past book three, the fools in charge of HarperCollins in America haven’t published it in America.  However, for those of you who are waiting, we DO have a copy on order for the library . . . so you won’t have to wait much longer.

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