"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} the faceless ones

skulduggery faceless ones coverSkulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones (bk3) by Derek Landy

Harper (HarperCollins), 2009.

Hardcover, 422 pages.

If you’ve read the other Skulduggery books by Derek Landy (and you really should have read them by now), you’ve seen it all before: Some bad guy wants to bring about the end of the world, and Skulduggery and Valkyrie fight valiantly to stop it from happening. A few people get hurt, sure, but everything’s all right in the end.

Well, not this time. –jacket copy.

You really should read Skulduggery Pleasant and Playing with Fire before this The Faceless Ones. Sure Landy does a little catch-up, but most of the references are to remind readers of books one and two as to where everyone is in by this third installment. Primary reason for reading the first two is because they are really good. Landy has a marvelous sense of humor, timing, and plot-twisting. The tagline on the cover: Do panic. They’re coming. and the warning in the jacket: “Well, not this time” are more than clever lures. It is killing us that the only copy of Book Four at the Library is in Spanish and my bilingual daughter refuses to translate it for us. I mean seriously, why else did we make her go to Bilingual Immersion schools for so long?! Do have Dark Days on hand because it does not turn out all right in the end. Derek Landy is capable of just about anything. He prepares our young people to be able to anticipate George R.R. Martin or Joss Whedon.

“Detective, have you ever considered the fact that violence is the recourse of the uncivilized man?”

Skulduggery looked back. “I’m sophisticated, charming, suave, and debonair, Professor. But I have never claimed to be civilized.” (95)

Kenspeckle is not the only one to worry after now-14-year-old Valkyrie Cain (aka Stephanie Edgley). Valkyrie continues to take some serious beatings while out with Skulduggery. And it doesn’t really get all that easier as the story continues. There are some dread-filled moments for the Reader as we are left to rely on the confidence only Valkyrie and Skulduggery seem to share. True, she has made it through some amazing scrapes before, but between the increasingly sinister presence of the reflection and the dangerous tasks at hand…  Then there is the worry about Skulduggery, whose influence (and past) are something we should probably question; especially seeing how others are.

The witty exchanges between Valkyrie and Skulduggery are fewer in this volume, but the beloved characterizations of our protagonists are still there; as are support cast members, and some wonderful new additions—yes, even at their most annoying they are appreciated for their roles in providing proper conflict. I would love to have spent more time with Valkyrie’s life as “Stephanie” in the balance, but Landy is going to draw out his greater arc a bit more. He is littering his stories with enough kindling to create a proper cataclysmic event. Yet, even while important characters like Valkyrie/Stephanie’s family members are kept in passing, Landy keeps them also in memory in reference and amusing interactions.

“Desmond, I found your passport. Time to go.” […] Her dad came down the stairs, picked up the passport, and opened it. “This isn’t mine,” he said. “This belongs to an ugly man wearing a stupid expression.”

Valkyrie’s mother sighed. “Get in the car.”

“This is my anniversary gift to you,” he protested. “And that means I’m in charge.”

“Get in the car.”

“Yes, dear,” he mumbled, picking up his bag and shuffling out the door. He stopped to give Valkyrie a hug and winked at her. “You behave, okay? And be nice to your cousins. God knows someone has to be.” (289-90)

skulduggery pleasant FacelessonesGreat characters, wit, action, sheer imagination, surprises, and a willingness to take a turn improbable to most of juvenile fiction make Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant a must read series. I am terrified of what is going to happen in Dark Days…deliciously so.

—Derek Landy is brilliant and I am embarrassed that I am only just out of the 3rd book in this series. I will remedy it, and if you are behind as well, I hope you will make the time as well. The age recommendation on these books are 8 & up, but as to the younger end, know the sensitivity of your child, these are actually quite violent and certainly perilous (gorgeously so). For girls and boys, those who like well-imagined villains, magic/fantasy, action, and sarcasm.

my review of Skulduggery Pleasant (bk1) (HarperCollins, 2008);

and of Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire (bk2) (HarperCollins, 2008).

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audio book trip

We remembered the audio books this time. Natalya and I browsed the considerable audio book collection at the library and left with more hours of reading than the trip should need–just in case one of the narrators was awful, which has happened in the past. Perhaps as we listen to more audio books we will remember the good readers.

When N and I were perusing the three sections of audio books, I noticed Tonya Hurley’s Ghostgirl on the Teen Shelf and was tempted to pick it up. Maybe next time. Because I am familiar with the story or am tempted by the cover copy? No. The book is read aloud by Parker Posey–I mean, how fabulous is that? N didn’t know better and nixed the idea, but Sean agrees–next time.

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We began with Faeries of Dreamdark : Blackbringer [unabridged] by Laini Taylor, read by Davina Porter. You may recall how I raved on this and its second book Silksinger. Davina Porter is a fantastic reader! I am going to remember her for future books. She changes her voice so seamlessly, so perfectly. I was immediately drawn in.

Just the same, we didn’t get too far into this very long reading because we were needing more overt humor over the chilling imagery of a terrible demon on the loose. (The Dreamdark series would be a fun RIP read.)

I picked up Skulduggery Pleasant because I thought it was funny, very Doctor Who-ish. Written by Derek Landy, this audio book version was read aloud by Rupert Degas. When I had read Skulduggery Pleasant I had had very definite sounds of Skulduggery and Stephanie (the two protagonists) in my head. In effect, they were David Tennant and Billie Piper (of Doctor Who). Imagine my distraction when the talented Mr. Degas presented two very different voices. His softened, lilting voice for the daring and sassy 12-year-old Stephanie Edgley sounded remarkably like Billy Boyd as Peregrine “Pippin” Took of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films.  I also felt that Skulduggery would have been a bit more animated, less like Brendan Gleeson suffering exhaustion and a scratchy throat. Fortunately, Sean and Natalya thought the reading was great and really enjoyed the six discs as it carried us across North Texas.

Except…there are musical/sound effect transitions between chapters here that we had come to mock, but were otherwise not amusing. Really, that they all start with weird music (minus Blackbringer) was startling and slightly icky.

The third book we listened to upon the return trip was Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl : The Eternity Code. Only Natalya and I have read the first book in the series. The Eternity Code, I believe, is the third book. Sean had a passing idea of who Artemis Fowl was.

The reader for this audio version is Nathaniel Parker. The reading was a wonderful experience and the flashes of Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane (as Rubeus Hagrid) were not too distracting. Actually it was kind of funny trying to picture the Hagrid figure as the dwarf Mulch Diggums.

I marvel over the voice memory for each character an audio-book reader can employ. I remember trying to assign each character a voice (as recommended by their description) when reading aloud to N when she was much smaller. I would forget and get them mixed up if there were more than 5 characters. N, however, always remembered how the voices were supposed to go. My greatest success is still Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

We would have liked to have gotten to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline as read by the author–except we are glad to have not been on the road that much longer. Neil Gaiman was our fail-safe. He softens his voice for the female characters, but does not reach for the falsetto like the previous two mentions. His alterations are more slight. And well, Sean and I adore his reading of The Graveyard Book. Gaiman will be sure to come along with us again.

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How do you prefer your audio-books? Dramatic vocal changes between characters? Female or Male Narrator? Author over Actor? Musical entrances? Warnings that the disc is finished, a ‘would you please change it or you’ll be experiencing two full minutes of deja vu and forget where you’d left off’? Do you have fail-safe readers/series?

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · poet-related · sci-fi/fantasy · series

s pleasant 2

“I want you all to know,” Skulduggery said, “that we are the first line of defense. In fact, we’re practically the only line of defense. If we fail, there won’t be a whole lot anyone else will be able to do. What I’m trying to say is that failure, at this point, isn’t really the smart move to make. We are not to fail, do I make myself absolutely clear? Failure is bad—it won’t help us in the short term and certainly won’t do us any favors in the long run, and I think I’ve lost track of this speech, and I’m not too sure where it’s headed. But I know where it started, and that’s what you’ve got to keep in mind. Has anyone seen my hat?”

“You put it on the roof of the car when you were taking off your coat,” Valkyrie said.

“Did I? I did; excellent.”

“We will attack in two waves,” Bliss said, steering the briefing back into the realms of relevance. “The first wave will consist of Tanith Low, Valkyrie Cain, Skulduggery Pleasant, and myself. The second wave will be you Cleavers.”

“We’re seizing our chance now,” Skulduggery said, “before Vengeous returns and we have a battle on two fronts. […] Does anyone have any questions? No? No one? No questions? You sure?”

Bliss turned to him. “There do not seem to be any questions.”

Skulduggery nodded. “They’re a fine lot.”

Bliss gestured, and the Cleavers divided into groups, and Valkyrie and Skulduggery strode away.

“I used to be so good at that kind of thing,” Skulduggery said quietly.

“Well, my morale is certainly boosted,” Valkyrie informed him.

“Really?”

“God no. That was terrible.” (342-3)

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire (Book2) by Derek Landy

HarperCollins, 2008.

Hardcover, 389 pages.

Juvenile Fiction, 10 & up.

after reading Book One, I had to pick up the sequel.

Not sure if I went on and on and on enough the other day about Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant, but you should know that it is a fantastic read; for my part: there was hugging involved. I was excited to read the next book in line and I tried not to have too high of expectations. Fortunately it was good. I cannot say it was as excellent as the first, but it was sehr enjoyable. For one, Playing with Fire has more action, more bloody messes, and just as many scary creatures; no glittery chested vampires here, and if you’ve a healthy fear of spiders… Landy’s marvelous way with repartee returns as does his ability to keep the Reader on their toes.

It would be of great benefit to read Skulduggery Pleasant first. While Landy does the appropriate nod to the previous book, Playing with Fire does the minimal. This review will do little more. In the first book you learn that there is a world of magic, the kind that allows for a dead man to come back to life as a well-dressed skeleton. Her late Uncle Gordon knew of this world and left a link to it in his estate of which Stephanie Edgley inherited, who, tantalized, falls head-long into a perilous adventure and sharp-witted apprenticeship with the skeleton detective, Skulduggery Pleasant. They solve the mystery of Gordon’s murder and stop an old evil from returning, but not before the villain wreaks a great deal of havoc; of which they are still recovering in the second book.

The realizations made in the first, of Stephanie’s ancestry, of the return of old enemies intent on bringing about the return of the evil Faceless Ones, continue into Playing with Fire. In this second book, Baron Vengeous, one of Mevolent’s Generals, has escaped from an inescapable prison and is intent on resurrecting the Grotesquery, a monster created out of parts of legendary beasts, an unkillable creature who has the ability to call back the Faceless Ones. But is there something more dark and sinister going on? Is Vengeous merely a puppet of a more dangerous organization? Or is this another of Mevolent’s Generals attempts to finish what was started all those years ago? Or both. In Derek Landy’s Skulduggery novels, anything can happen, most everything is probable.

In Playing with Fire, Landy skips a little ahead in time and picks up in the character development of his central character Stephanie Edgley aka Valkyrie Cain. There is a lot that Valkyrie has learned and a lot left to learn; and she is still trying to adjust to all the implications this new part of her life incurs.

[Stephanie] wondered if it would ever get to the point where she would be a stranger in her own home. She shook her head. She didn’t like thinking those thoughts. They came regularly, unwelcome visitors in her mind, and they stayed far too long and they made too much mess. (181).

It is a wonderful part of this series that the child heroine loves her parents and has a good relationship with them.  It is hard on Stephanie’s childhood that she spends so much time away from normalcy (no matter how dull) in this new normal that involves the role of kick-ass apprentice to the bad-ass Skulduggery. What is she missing by sending her Reflection to school in her place, as well as the dinner table? And what about this strange double of hers?

New and exciting things learned in Playing with Fire? –The self-serving, conniving China Sorrows is more than just a pretty face. She has some wicked defense/fighting skills.  –There really are mysteries to be solved amidst all the chases, fights, and explosions.—The author is good with pop culture reference: what is “half the battle?” and “There is no one to watch the watchmen, Valkyrie” (388).

As with the first book? The heroes are not infallible. Valkyrie still rushes in and creates unexpected turns in the plot. The villains are fantastic (and more fully developed here). The imagination of the author is exceeded only by his sense of humor and his ability to write wonderful action sequences. This series continues to be one worth getting excited about. You can be sure I will be picking up the next one very soon.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · wondermous

skulduggery pleasant

“Before I introduce you to a life of crime, I get to introduce you to the Elder Mages.”

“Crime sounds more fun.”

“As indeed it is, though I would never condone crime in any of its forms. Except when I do it, naturally.”

“Naturally. so why are we delaying the fun? What do these Elder Mages want?”

“They’ve heard that I’ve been dragging a perfectly nice young lady into all manner of trouble, and they want to admonish me for it.”

“Tell them it’s none of their business.”

“Well, while I do admire your moxie–”

“What’s moxie?”

“–I’m afraid that won’t work too well with these fellows. One thing you have to remember about the Elder Mages is that they’re–”

“Really old sorcerers?”

“Well, yes.”

“Worked that out all by myself.”

“You must be so proud.”

“Why do you have to report to them? Do you work for them?”

“In a way. the Elders pass the laws, and they have people who enforce the laws, but there are only a few of us who actually investigate the breaking of those laws–murders, robberies, a couple of kidnappings, the usual. And while I may be freelance, most of my work, and my money, comes from the Elders.”

“So if they want to wag their fingers at you…”

“I have to stand there and be wagged at.”

“So why do they want me to be there? Aren’t I the innocent young girl being led astray?”

“See, I dont’ really want them to view you as the innocent young girl. I want them to view you as the rebellious, insubordinate, troublesome rapscallion who has made herself my partner. Then maybe they’ll take pity on me.” (138-9)

Skulduggery Pleasantby Derek Landy

HarperCollins, 2008.

Paperback (w/ “Extras”), 416 pages.

ages 10 & up.

Have you hugged a book lately? Everytime I had to set down Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant I had to give it a brief hug first, I was so happy to be reading it. Yes, this could be attributed to the fact that the daughter was out of town and I was missing a hugging of someone intelligent and humorous and just flat-out brilliant and the book had to do. Although there was Sean and he is all those things… I suppose the book earned the hug on it’s own merit. Actually, I don’t suppose, I know it did. Skulduggery Pleasant is a fun, smart read.

Skulduggery Pleasant is a skeleton and a detective, and he was a good friend of 12 year-old-Stephanie Edgely’s late uncle Gordon. Stephanie Edgely is an only child residing in a small town in Ireland who wishes life were not so boring. Her problems are replaced by  the mystery of a murdered uncle, the Scepter of the Ancients, and of Skulduggery Pleasant himself. I mean, who is this living skeleton who can talk without lips and see without eyeballs? And is he the only one capable of magic?

Skulduggery’s world isn’t merely the fiction upon which Uncle Gordon’s successful novels were based. Its characters are as brilliantly realized as anyone could hope for; and the dialog is better than one should expect. As I was caught up in the banter between Skulduggery and Stephanie, I couldn’t help but think about Rose (Billie Piper) and Doctor Who (David Tennant). The comparison’s didn’t quit with the quick- and sharp-witted exchanges. Stephanie has a similar penchant for getting into a scrape and getting herself back out of it; and she has a fierce loyalty for those she comes to love. As for Skulduggery and The Doctor, it is the incredible energy and the enormous ego. Needless to say, fans of Doctor Who must read Skulduggery Pleasant.

“Stephanie and Skulduggery’s witty repartee is most enjoyable, and the pacing is fast, with constant action and fight scenes during which the author neither sugarcoats the violence nor revels in it unnecessarily.” Voya

The villains are quite scary and the peril is pretty intense. Yet it is as Voya notes in their review, “the author neither sugarcoats the violence nor revels in it unnecessarily.” People are murdered by heinous creatures, one is made into a monster in one the most disturbing parts of the book–and you see what evil’s consequences are, the threat compels the reader to cheer on the heroes and wonder at the outcome. Again, I am thinking of a Doctor Who episode; but I can’t disregard the originality of Derek Landy’s inventions. If I think Doctor Who or Terry Pratchett, it is that Skulduggery keeps good company. For Eoin Colfer fans, you’ll likely find this book a recommendation as well. Dark and evil things are scary, the wit has the reader laughing out loud, and the heart within each character (that has a heart) that is irresistible. I am glad Skulduggery Pleasant is a series. I want to read more.

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In the “Extras” section at the back of the edition I read, there is a short story of a Skulduggery adventure called The Lost Art of World Domination. You can find it on-line here.

the Skulduggery Pleasant website.