Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy

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Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: The continuing adventures of the skeleton detective and his sidekick are as full of action and terrible one liners as ever. There's a line of wry humour in these books which raise them way above the average bar. For girls and boys of late primary and early secondary age.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 0007257031

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With Nefarious Sulpine duly disposed of, you'd think the newly-dubbed Valkyrie Cain - otherwise known rather more prosaically as schoolgirl Stephanie Edgley - could take a well-earned rest. She and her skeleton detective friend Skulduggery Pleasant have more than won the right to rest on their laurels. But of course, in the world of kick-tastic, magic-tastic, sword-tastic otherworldly crime-fighting, there's no such thing as a rest. Baron Vengeous has escaped from prison and is in possession of Lord Vile's deadly armour. What's worse, he plans to use it to resurrect the Grotesquery and bring back the Faceless Ones. With a vampire named Dusk literally after Valkyrie's blood, it's business as usual for our favourite and irreverent double act.

You just can't help but love this dynamic duo of the skeleton detective and his sidekick, a young female apprentice in the magical arts. The action comes so thick and fast that you feel as though you're in the middle of a smash and grab raid. But it's all so, so, kindly. The villains are really, really bad, but they're such cardboard cut outs that they're not particularly frightening - they make you want to shout boo! hiss! in pantomime style. The goodies have a lot more depth. Valkyrie is stubborn, brave and rebellious, and even though she spends most of the book fighting vampires and other assorted monsters, she's completely recognisable as a pre-teen girl. Skulduggery, the skeleton detective, displays the damage from his terrible past in irony and distance, but the care he shows for his young apprentice is tremendously touching, even though he always disguises it with a droll one-liner. Many of the supporting characters have ambiguous loyalties and this uncertainty adds a level of sophistication to a set up that could otherwise be a little too Batman and Robin.

There are jokes galore - good ones, bad ones, downright awful ones and always one to disrupt things when the levels of violence and gore might get just that bit too much for the younger readers. Even so, you never get the impression that Landy is talking down to his audience. He seems very at home writing for children. You might even begin to suspect author and reader are kindred spirits.

The book is set in and around Dublin, but to be honest it feels like Anytown. This, perhaps, is an opportunity missed when you compare Skulduggery Pleasant to some of the teen urban fantasies coming out of America, in which New York provides a colossus of a background, a magical entity in its own right, or some British fantasies in which London's rich past is evoked to spectacular effect. I'd like to have seen more of the Irish. This really, though, is a minor pick. The second book in the series is just as much fun as the first and it will be devoured by all fantasy fans aged from about nine to twelve or thirteen. And me.

Marcus Sedgwick's My Swordhand is Singing has a more traditional take on vampires. He doesn't play it for laughs.

Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant Books in Chronological Order

Buy Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy at Amazon.com.


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