Note: everything below is based on the NetGalley digital ARC that I received, so quotes may not be finalised, etc etc. In fact I’m not 100% sure I’m allowed to post this yet, but it comes out like next week or something, so I’m sure it’s fine.
Despite having seen the Skulduggery Pleasant books in every library ever, it wasn’t until my friend Engie raved about them repeatedly that I actually sought them out myself, and I rapidly worked my way through the series over the Easter break this year. When I heard that Derek Landy was publishing a new novel, the first in a new series, I was excited.
And then I found I could get it from NetGalley, and I was even more excited. I don’t know as I’ve ever had something before it came out, or at least not recently.
This book has some of the hallmarks of the Skulduggery Pleasant series. I mean this in both a good and a bad way: I loved S.P., I loved its characters, and I loved its humour. That said, some of the dynamics do feel recycled here, and while the characters have their distinctive features, it isn’t exactly a huge departure from Landy’s past offerings.
There’s a badass female protagonist (here called Amber) whose strength lies in a version of herself that she fears and views as her dark side. Oh wait. That sounds slightly familiar. Unlike Valkyrie/Darquesse, however, Amber’s strength is hereditary, and it’s something she learns how to use as an aspect of herself rather than it taking over.
The book also has the humour that Landy uses elsewhere, but I’d say on the whole the mood of the book is darker. The early Skulduggery Pleasant books were aimed at younger teens, whereas this has significant adult content: violence, gore, and plenty of innuendo, even if there wasn’t any actual sex going on. Sure, the S.P. books got violent enough as the series went on that I questioned my local library’s decision to shelve them under Children’s, but this was like that from the beginning.
Anyway, despite that, there were a number of witty one-liners, particularly from the character Glen. I liked him a lot, because he was amusing, but although he created a number of subplots and interacted with the main plot, as it were, he wasn’t exactly a central character.
Also, the dialogue was spot-on, in true Landy style:
“I’m going through a very tough time.”
“We all go through tough times.”
“My parents are trying to kill me.”
“We all have issues.”
“My life has taken a pretty weird turn lately, so I’ve adopted a policy of complete and utter credulity in all things. It saves everyone a lot of time.”
“I like your eyes,” he said.
Amber blinked at him. “What?”
“Your eyes,” he repeated. “I like them.”
She blinked. “These?”
He laughed. “You have any others I should know about?”
“Did you learn anything?”
“No,” said Glen. “Turns out that old guy is German and doesn’t speak a word of English.”
“Then what were you arguing about?”
Glen looked puzzled. “How should I know?”
So yeah, that was great.
What else was awesome? Well, there’s no romance, so that’s great. In fact – minimal spoilers here – the only scene approaching romantic is quickly halted by Amber’s very reasonable response, “I swear to God, do not try to kiss me.” I liked that just because two characters were thrown together by bizarre circumstances, Landy didn’t feel the need for them to get together, however much they grew to mean to each other.
Amber differs from Valkyrie Cain in one very major way: while Val is trying to protect her family, shield them from the magical and dangerous world she inhabits, and generally avoid them ever coming into contact with her dark side, Amber’s family are the danger she’s running from. They represent that world. As a result, her motivations and emotions are different, so you can’t accuse Landy of being unoriginal – I think he just likes badass teenage girls.
(Not in a weird way. I hope.)
There was one thing that bothered me slightly, though, which is that Amber’s a bit of a fangirl. Okay, that sounds bad, since I’m clearly one myself, but hear me out. She’s mentioned as being a fan of a TV series (In The Dark Places) and lurks on messageboards or forums to chat to other fans. And I had a few problems with that aspect of her personality.
- It’s barely mentioned. It comes into the story two or three times and never plays an important role. I was really hoping someone on the board would turn out to be significant, but nope.
- Do messageboards still exist? I don’t get why authors don’t just admit that the place you’ll find fangirls chatting about TV shows is probably Tumblr. It’s one of the things Holly Black did really well in The Coldest Girl In Coldtown – the use of social media seemed realistic and present-day, not relegated to chatrooms and messageboards which you don’t find in many places on the internet.
- (Okay, I’m a member of one closed forum that does kind of have a chat function, but that’s definitely something of a relic.)
- Very few people use the kinds of contractions or text speak that were depicted (but it wasn’t as bad as some I’ve seen in books), so that also seemed a little bit dated.
That just seemed to be thrown in there, as though to say, “Hey look, fangirls, Amber’s one of you!” And while I’m not averse to characters having a life outside of the story, it didn’t feel developed enough to be worth mentioning, you know?
The final problem I had was her relationship with Imelda, and Imelda herself. Their interactions changed rapidly and went from one extreme to another – and Imelda kept making long speeches expounding on her reasons for her actions that bordered on melodrama. Frankly, I found them one of the least believable things about a story full of demons.
But on the whole, I really enjoyed the book. It had some great lines with brilliant humour, some gut-wrenching scenes that gave me ALL OF THE EMOTIONS, cool characters (including a living car, that’s badass), and a dramatic, fast-paced plot.