Saturday, 17 January 2015

Review: The Dying of the Light (Skulduggery Pleasant #9) by Derek Landy (SPOILERS)


Okay, that's enough spoiler warnings. I've never had to put a spoiler warning in the title before. This is going to be a really hard review to write, and I can't do it justice without spoilers. So there are going to be spoilers for the whole series from here on out.

This review might not be entirely coherent, but it'll be cathartic.



Publisher: HarperCollins Children's
Date of Publication: August 28th 2014
Pages: 605
Source: Christmas present
Rating: ?????

I'm so disappointed. As a whole, the book was thrilling and emotional and everything we expect a Skulduggery Pleasant book to be (almost), but I'm so upset by the ending. 

The book starts with some weird chapter from the perspective of this randomer called Danny living a boring, ordinary life in Meek Ridge. Periodically, he brings groceries to a girl called Stephanie who lives all alone in a mansion. The name is supposed to ring a bell with us (and it does, obviously) but we don't understand it. This subplot continues through the book, with Danny at one point being kidnapped as two killers chase Stephanie. The Danny chapters are just sprinkled throughout, and I hated them because I didn't care in the slightest about Danny or this mysterious Stephanie. 

All I wanted was Valkyrie's perspective.

For the majority of the book, that is not what I got. 

At the end of LSoDM, Darquesse took over Valkyrie. So for a large chunk at the start of the book, we get Stephanie's perspective. Skulduggery is sullen because he's lost his partner, and while this is entirely understandable I missed his wit. I really dislike the dark turn the last two books took. I mean, SP has always been gory, and that was okay. But there are all these real war casualties, and it's so sad. Then again, I'm glad I properly grew up with these books. The Harry Potter books are very special to me, but I pretty much missed the Hogwarts express, or only caught the tail end. The first book came out shortly before I was born, and so I read Fred's death when I was eight or nine so I didn't really get the emotional impact. 

I'm getting the emotional impact here.

And that's why I'm so annoyed with how Derek toyed with it. 

TV Tropes just told me Argeddion died. Fucking Argeddion, and I'd forgotten it, because there were too many other deaths. 

TV tropes also says Skulduggery beat Darquesse and Argeddion in LSoDM by giving them epileptic fits. I don't remember half of this stuff. I really need to re-read the books. 

I think I understand why Derek gave us Stephanie's perspective. It was really awkward for the characters because they had to sort out in their heads that she's now her own person, but that makes it awkward for the reader too. Derek probably liked that, but I didn't need that particular complication while reading through everything else in the million subplots. The book mentions her killing Carol, but that line isn't resolved at all. She's not even punished for it, as far as I can remember. I'm so mad. 

I was pretty apprehensive when I saw the cover (the titular character's skull is on the ground, burning), but that particular reality doesn't come to pass, as far as I know.

A plainly ridiculous amount of stuff happens in this book, and it's impossible to go through it all. I know I said there'd be spoilers here, but honestly describing the book would just be "x dies, comes back to life, dies again, y dies, z dies horribly, a betrays b, everyone dies". 

I get that the chapters were an artistic choice, but I hated them. I mean, I got the point later on in the book when they were just one line, but Derek would end chapters in the middle of a sentence and then finish that sentence in a new chapter in a different character's perspective. I shudder to think of how much editing this book must have needed. 

A ton of characters are brought back from the previous books to deal with Darquesse. It's really great to see Fletcher, who I love, but then you also have, let's think ... Wreath, Melancholia, Vile, vampires, Cassandra & Finbar (who have a surprisingly huge role after just turning up), the Dead Men, Billy-Ray Sanguine, Tanith, Mevolent, Serpine and more.

Tanith finally loses her Remnant, thanks to Darquesse. Darquesse has become really annoying in this book; rather than being playful and crazy with her power like in the previous books, she's now studying weird and arcane magic, trying to become The Most Powerful of All. Whereas in Death Bringer she and Lord Vile were pretty evenly matched, she goes up against Vile and Melancholia together and literally blasts both of them out of the park. 

I loved Scapegrace, Thrasher and Clarabelle's subplot. They're one group that has been consistently funny all through the series, and I'm so glad they get a happy ending. 

Valkyrie loses her magic partway through the book in a gutwrenching twist, but then we have yet another reversal and she gets her surge, giving her some weird, unsatisfying magic where she blasts beams of energy through her hands (but she's not an Energy-Thrower). So we don't get any of that Elemental good stuff or the cool/scary Necromancy. I'll admit, her heartbreak at losing her magic was one of the few twists I did appreciate (though it pained me).

I also quite liked the failure of the plan to suck Darquesse out of Valkyrie, because Darquesse goes along with it and actually has a moment where she considers being good. She also has a pretty awesome fight seen with what I'm remembering as a giant dog impervious to magic, which Valkyrie definitely wouldn't have survived. The fear on people's faces when they realise she's Darquesse is pretty great too. I also liked how Stephanie and Valkyrie have to deal with dirty looks because they look the same as Darquesse.

Then again, I've never really understood how Valkyrie always gets forgiven after Darquesse goes on a rampage. They may have different names, but Darquesse is Val's true name, remember? It's just uncomfortable to think that's who she really is. 

Look, I probably would have liked the book if not for that stupid ending. Everyone's losing in the fight to Darquesse, and then she kills them all gruesomely, including Val, Skul, Fletcher, everyone. She then torches the rest of the world, and flies off into the solar system, then into other universes, where she's bored so she solves quantum mechanics (I'm not kidding). I was sitting reading it with a friend and I didn't even consider that a spoiler because it's so bloody ridiculous.

And then we find out, oops, it was a dream organised by the psychics, Darquesse has now sent herself through a portal into the land of the Faceless Ones, everyone is alive (well, the few who were alive before this scene.)

Not only is that cheating, the conclusion of the Danny arc is so important and I hate it. It turns out the reason it's written in present tense is that it's set in the future. Val fights a random bad guy in a stupid, unsatisfying fight scene, and once she's rescued a mortal, it turns out she's been telling him this whole story.

Seriously. That's why the series is from her perspective. She's been telling some irrelevant mortal called Danny. It's extra-annoying because it shows that there's been no great conclusion; Val is still fighting run-of-the-mill bad guys, which is a bit of a let-down from Faceless Ones and Darquesse. 

Skulduggery pulls off a last-minute twist by (instead of sacrificing himself, like we thought he would), throwing Ravel into the Accelerator to save the world (again). It's a very Skulduggery thing to do, yes, but still.

After this it's just Val reminiscing to Danny. We learn she's been living in America for five years, taking time out, and don't know if she ever talks to Skulduggery or any other character we know and love. She just leaves it all behind. It reminds me of the ending of Fangirl; she's matured, but it's so unsatisfying and I'm not ready to mature that much with her.

Only, SP matters so much more to me than Fangirl because I grew up with it. I'm so disappointed it missed the mark on this one, but I will always love the series. Especially Death Bringer. Now that's the Darquesse I like. 

And there's always fanfiction.