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Lord of the Night reviews the penultimate book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy.
“A non-stop barrage of plot twists, strong and surprising character development and powerfully written battle and war scenes make this the finest book in the series, at least until book nine is released. Landy outdoes himself once again!” – The Founding Fields
Skulduggery Pleasant has been one of my favourite urban fantasy series ever since I picked up the five books for £8.99, a deal that i’m still pleased over, and enjoyed the hell out of each one. No other series makes me laugh like SP does and somehow Derek Landy does what few authors in the world manage, he writes a long-running series and makes each book consistently better than the last. And given the quality of Death Bringer and Kingdom of the Wicked, it was no mean feat that LSoDM surpassed them, and as the book featured a much darker plotline than it’s predecessors the comedic quality was potentially going to be lesser, but Landy not only makes this a tragic and compelling story but he also injects a lot of humour into the story which makes even the darkest moments, and believe me there are plenty of them in the story, easier to bear.
War is coming. With the head of the English Sanctuary murdered and his plan for peace forgotten, the Irish Sanctuary faces the combined might of the Supreme Council and their demands for control. Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain must gear up for a war the likes of which the world has not seen since the days of Mevolent and a conspiracy hidden in the shadows of the magical community with a goal that may demand that this war come to pass, but a much bigger problem looms on the horizon. Darquesse, the alter-ego of Valkyrie and the one who is supposed to destroy the world, is still coming and her influence over Valkyrie has only become stronger. As the legendary Dead Men return to take up the fight for Ireland once more, can the Skeleton Detective and his partner find a way to stop both the looming Sorcerer War and the coming of Darquesse? Or are they doomed to both watch the world burn and cause it?
The story in LSoDM is a brilliant one and had me hooked, enough that I read this immense book in less then 24 hours of reading time, and while it is as dark as Landy promised it’s still an SP story and it’s also funny, action-packed and just generally fun to read. Right off the bat Landy starts by delving into one of the key plotlines of the series, the mystery behind Roarhaven and it’s community of sorcerers, and deals with the war that has resulted from events in KotW. Both of these plots have been building for some time now and how they played out was excellently done, many things happened that I would never have guessed at and answers to questions that readers have had since the beginning of the series were finally answered, and one or two of them take the prize for Most Shocking Twist in the Series. The Darquesse plot also continues and thickens very nicely, especially with the event that took place in the epilogue of KotW, and while the Darquesse plot is not over yet it will be the centrepiece of book nine, where this series-long plot will finally reach it’s conclusion. But LSoDM serves as the finale for pretty much every other plotline, both the war and the Roarhaven mystery are dealt with in the book and reach their conclusions, which is something I appreciate as I think the Darquesse storyline is important enough that it should carry the final book and not have to share space. The best achievement though was making LSoDM such a darker story than it’s predecessors yet still retaining that irreverent humour that is such an important part of the series, but Landy also doesn’t skimp on the dark and some scenes in the book are brutal, tragic or in a few cases both.
The characters are mostly a returning cast and we see how war changes many of them. Skulduggery and Valkyrie remain the protagonists but many other characters feature in the book and a fair few of them were created solely for this book. Many characters that only had bit parts in previous novels get quite a few impressive moments in this book and some faces that I didn’t expect to see again for a while returned, but as this is a novel focused around a war quite a few characters died and not all of them were new or minor. One particular scene with character death was the most shocking moment of the series thus far and I was stunned, I never expected that those characters would meet their end in the book but the tagline of the book sums it up nicely; No One is Safe. Landy’s characters go through a hell of a lot in the book and seeing them on a war footing was a marked departure from the rest of the series, they’ve been in battles before but a war is something that only Skulduggery and the older members of the sorcerers have seen. We also finally learn the truth behind a few characters and we get to discover exactly what it is they want or plan to do, and in the main case of the Man with the Golden Eyes it was the turning point of the novel from great to excellence. I really enjoyed all the familiar faces that reappeared and a few of these characters revealed some hidden depths that surprised me, and in one case made me laugh quite a bit but that character has always been hilarious. Landy’s characters are some of my favourites to read about and after this novel none of them will be the same again, and I can’t wait to see how they are in book nine.
The action is very different from the rest of the series because rather than battles, this is war. Landy really captures the chaos of a crowded battlefield, how singular fights can break out only to end by the crush of bodies and the movement of two forces clashing against each other. Of course there are plenty of well-written duels and small-scale fights in the book but it’s the real war scenes that are the best parts of the action, seeing magic used on the scale necessary for war is great and especially for the novel as Landy introduces a few new kinds of magic users who make some very impressive scenes. The tagline again comes into play here, many chapters feature scenes where characters can live or die and often you’ll be on the edge of whatever your sitting on as you wonder if the character you’re reading about is going to die, and that makes the action scenes even more engaging because for the most part you can’t predict who will be okay and who will not be. Though some deaths could seem obvious, redshirt syndrome and all, it’s still surprising how quickly and how ignominously some characters do die and Landy uses this tension for all it’s worth. You may have to fight the urge to peek at the last few pages and see if your favourite characters live or die, I resisted the urge but only barely.
The pacing is nicely done which is impressive as LSoDM is the largest SP book yet, so large the font had to be reduced from the regular size just so the book could be a regular-sized hardback. Over 70 chapters long this is a book that hooks you from the beginning and has you read through it in a pace that eats away at time until you’ve read 500 pages and it’s been six to eight hours and you didn’t even realise until you looked at the clock. Though some chapters are very short and some very long each one is enjoyable and there was not a dull moment in the entire book. One thing about the book that I really enjoyed are the additions Landy makes, introducing Witches and Warlocks and Wretches and all the subgroups of the first two that exist into the SP world, these groups are very different from what you would expect and they definitely make an impression, particularly the Warlocks who take part in some of the best action scenes of the entire book, but it also expands on what kinds of magic exist in the SP world and it’s a real shame that we won’t get to learn more about them as I doubt book nine will go into detail on this, Darquesse being the obvious focus.
Now my favourite quote, without a doubt this one because it came on the heels of the most shocking moment I mentioned and because one it was said, I knew things were about to get bloody,
“Oh, that. We kill them. We kill them all.”
The ending is not as shocking as KotW or DB’s but it’s still surprising in some areas, but mainly it’s like the eye of the storm. The war and Roarhaven storylines have concluded, but now Darquesse must be dealt with and with the events of book eight having shaken the entire series to it’s core, the changes that will occur can only be guessed at and likely we have not seen the last major death in the series, and I expect that book nine may even be darker than LSoDM. Landy wraps up the plotlines of the series, bar the main one of course, very nicely and sets the stage for the final book to be more focused than the others. The actual final chapter is a very good one and is something that after all that happened in the book, I thought would be avoided, but it’s going to happen anyway and the fallout from it is going to be immense. Nearly the entirety of LSoDM was the storm, then those final few moments were the moment of calm before the storm returns in book nine even larger and more dangerous than ever before. It’s going to be very exciting and Skulduggery Pleasant Book Nine, whatever it will be called, is one of my Top 5 Most Anticipated Reads.
For a brilliant story that was comedic, thrilling, tragic and fun the entire way through, characters that never cease to amuse or surprise me and the best battle scenes of the entire series I give Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men a score of 10/10. It may have the same score as Death Bringer and Kingdom of the Wicked but LSoDM surpasses both of them, but the score can’t truly go any higher and I think that it is better in the sense that it is a continuance and thus I enjoyed reading it more than I did the last two but in terms of quality they are actually quite close to each other. But still, this is a brilliant series that has not produced even a single entry that was anything less than great, and the last few books have all been excellent and some of the most fun I have ever had reading a book. I both anticipate the release of book nine and dread it, as this amazing series will come to a close with it and I can only hope that while Derek Landy may be done with Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain by then, he will not be done with the brilliant world he created for them.
That’s it for this review. Thanks for reading, until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!