Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy

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Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: As we near the climax of this wonderful series, Derek Landy continues to impress with yet another incredibly entertaining novel.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 604 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Harper Collins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780007489206

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Kingdom of the Wicked left the magical world reeling and on the precipice of conflict, a conflict that erupts into full out war between Sanctuaries. Although the Supreme Council has vastly superior numbers, Ireland is home to some of the most powerful sorcerers in the world, including the legendary Dead Men, creating a formula for endless violence. But this is no straightforward war. Friends and former allies suddenly find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict, and not everyone is prepared to follow orders. Then there is the threat of an army of Warlocks, gathering to attack the mortal population, and thereby reveal the magical population to the world. And despite Roarhaven being the new site for the Irish Sanctuary, can its population, including the secretive Children of The Spider, really be trusted? And looming above all this chaos is the greatest threat of all: Darquesse. Valkyrie knows that she doesn't have any more second chances. If she succumbs to that sinister voice in her head, the lure of that incredible power, she will watch everyone she cares about die by her own hand.

Over the last few years, the Skulduggery Pleasant series has really grown into something special. There are very few series where you can get to the eighth book, and yet struggle to identify an instalment that has failed to impress. Ridiculously entertaining, Kingdom of the Wicked (Book 7) was among my top five books for 2012, and the spin-off, The Maleficent Seven, did a brilliant job of whetting my appetite for Book 8. With such heightened expectations, the promised culmination of many longstanding plot points, as well as the matter of resolving the cliffhanger that left readers positively shell-shocked at the end of Book 7, fans of the series might have wondered if even the great Derek Landy could manage to pull this off.

I doubt anything I could say would deter fans from devouring all 600 pages of this chunky epic at breakneck pace, but for any worried or anxious Minions out there, I can reassure you now, Derek Landy hasn’t lost the magic. Last Stand of Dead Men has all the classic hallmarks that make this series stand out above the rest: incredibly sharp and witty dialogue, consistently superb fight scenes where you can really feel every punch, elbow, knee and bite thrown, and of course, plenty of instances of unashamed, irreverent hilarity. No doubt, this is the darkest book in the series yet, and there are some very chilling scenes. Fortunately, whenever the story threatens to feel almost too dark, we are treated to an interlude to the adventures of Scapegrace and Thrasher. Former 'Killer Supreme', then Zombie King, then disembodied head in a jar, Scapegrace, after a successful brain transplant, is now a masked vigilante fighting crime as a man in a woman's body…it's just as weird and ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds.

I would be lying if I said that Last Stand of Dead Men is my favourite book of the series; the plot doesn't feel quite as focused or sharp as Kingdom of the Wicked, and there isn't as much enjoyable banter or interaction between Valkyrie and Skulduggery, as we are used to. But this is understandable when you consider the sheer length of the novel and just how much happens throughout it, as well as the vast array of secondary characters that are busy lighting up the pages. It's a delight to really get to know the rest of the Dead Men, and there are a number of brilliant cameos from various other characters (my favourite was probably the return of Finbar Wrong). This book really puts Landy's world-building to the test, with so many different characters and settings to depict, as well as a magical war to convey, but he passes with flying colours. The characters, the setting, the sorcery are all so inventive and memorable, that despite all the jumping around from one chapter to the next, I remained riveted to the story and its complex plot.

We see a different Valkyrie here compared to previous books. She has always been a flawed character, cold at times and occasionally bordering on arrogant; this is what makes her a more believable and interesting hero. In this book, she isn't as confident or as in control as she used to be, and it is clear that the presence and threat of Darquesse is weighing heavily on her. War allows other facets of Skulduggery's character to be explored as well, and his brilliant personality remains central to the success of the book, as it has done so throughout the series. The characterisation is as realistic and well thought out as we have come to expect from Landy, and the only weakness I found was that the antagonists were a little lacking in depth and back-story, which could've given more context and meaning to their actions.

While I was just a tiny bit underwhelmed by the pacing in the first half of the story, the final third steps things up by a number of notches, and there are some really stupendous twists. Even the slower first half is still highly enjoyable to read, filled as it is with great characters in this world that readers have come to love. Landy continues to surprise and thrill, cleverly subverting expectations in fascinating and thought-provoking ways. I was particularly impressed by what he has done with Valkyrie's reflection, which is very different to what I had initially expected. There is so much more I want to say and discuss about this book, but I've already rambled on for too long, and I wouldn't want to give anything away to readers.

Having finished the book, I wasn't hundred percent certain that it would be a five star review (probably because I've set my standard for this series so high). However, the enjoyment I've had in simply writing this review, and the fact that I'm aching to discuss so much more about the many awesome aspects of the story, tells me that Last Stand of Dead Men is deserving of five stars.

I can't wait for the ninth and concluding book of the series, yet at the same time, I really don't want it to end! It's been an amazingly fun journey so far, and I trust in Derek Landy to conclude it with consummate style.

Many thanks for sending a copy to The Bookbag!

The Bartimaeus series comes to mind as another fantasy series that combines great humour with a colourful cast of characters. For older readers looking for more high-octane supernatural action, try Department 19 by Will Hill, the first book in a series with superb, in-depth world-building and brilliant plotting.

Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant Books in Chronological Order

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