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Last Stand of Dead Men (Skulduggery Pleasant, #8)

Last Stand of Dead Men (Skulduggery Pleasant, #8) - Derek Landy 9 September 2013. OK, I think I've put it off long enough. For some reason, this is probably the hardest book for me to review, ever.

For starters, and for full disclosure, I should probably mention that it's hard for me to be completely unbiased. I am after all a character in this book - or rather there is a minor character in this book named after me (I'm not going to go as far as to say "inspired by me", even though she's sensible and reasonable and what not, ahem), amongst all the other dozen or so fan cameos who made it into this book, so... yeah.

Other than that (i.e. being a total fangirl of this series and of its author, posting on SP forums and interacting to an extent with other fans as well as the author online), I have no affiliation with either the author or the publisher. I have received no free copies in exchange for that five star review - in fact, I've already purchased three copies myself (Kindle to read + hardback & paperback to be signed) and, I suspect, will be buying some more.

Anyway. I don't want to spoil things too much, so I won't be going into plot detail, but be warned that there will be reactions here - and spoilers to the extent that have been hinted at in the description, or Derek's blog posts, or Derek's Twitter posts, i.e. anything publicly available before the book was released.

Of course, if you've read this far into this series - and have taken a look at the cover, with this cover art and the "No one is safe" tag line, it probably goes without saying that Things Happen in this book, and that not all of those things are fun, light-hearted and fluffy.

Overall impression: this is, without a doubt, in my opinion, the best Skulduggery Pleasant book written yet. By that I mean the plot, the twists, the writing, the sheer complexity of this eighth - and penultimate - full volume.

Is it my favourite book in the series? No. No, it's not. Mostly because of reasons - reasons that have to do with Last Stand of Dead Men leaving me heartbroken and crushed and numb once I was done.

"Children's book", they say. "Humour," they say. ... No. Yes, children can read it (if they're okay with all the bloodshed and the sexual innuendo, which by now isn't always even innuendo but pretty straightforward relationship stuff, or the swearing, which is very much present and IMHO very much justified when there), and yes, like every other SP book, it contains a lot of humour and howlingly funny moments and scenes and dialogue, but this is neither a children's book or a predominantly humorous book.

This is a book about war, and about betrayal, and about the things people do. The things good people do, when there is a need, and the things good people do, when they cannot resist the temptations and the lure of absolute power and freedom and magic any longer. It's a book about how far we - or the characters, anyway - are willing to go, and a book about the breaking points of strong people.

There is torture, and there is death, and there is bloodshed, and there is backstabbing, and there are political machinations, and yes, there is also love (because no matter how one interprets the love between Valkyrie and Skulduggery, whether one reads it as completely platonic or something a bit different, I can't see how one could deny it's there in so many ways, but Val & Skul, central to the book and the series as it is, is by far not the only relationship touched upon) and there is heartbreak and hurt and sadness.

I would love to talk about characters here, but that would take me straight into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that Valkyrie's path - the path she has been on since the first book, the first day, but more pronouncedly since the end of Dark Days - has taken another turn, sharper than ever. And I have no idea - no idea at all! - how things will turn out in book nine, the final book. My heart is hoping for a happy ending; my head is saying it's not going to happen.

Skulduggery... Let's be honest, I've been in love with Skulduggery since his first appearance. Since I saw the cover of the first book, probably. But this book, this book made me fall in love with him all over again. He's magnificent when in charge, he's loveable even when jealous, he's sweet and adorable when smug... and truly, I think this was finally his book, one where we see him through the eyes of multiple people, not just Valkyrie.

And oh, how my heart aches for him.

If this is Skulduggery's book, it's also the book of a multitude of secondary characters. We get more points of view than ever before, more chapters from secondary characters' POV, and while I wished deep down that we'd focused more on Skul and Val instead, I do think the multiple points of view enriched the book, emphasized the sheer scope of it (as well as providing some much needed laughs at times, even if Scapegrace and Thrasher have become much more than just comic relief by now).

And then there were the twists and the reveals. One of them I had guessed, sort of - I was about 98% certain of the identity of a particular character, who until this book was only seen pulling strings behind the scenes, mostly by the process of elimination (or in other words, no matter how much I tried to assume otherwise, every hint, every path of reasoning kept leading me back to this one specific person). So when that reveal happened, I wasn't surprised by the who, but I was still shocked about the how.

Another of the Things That Happened... I had not expected. I hadn't expected it to happen in this book, in any case, or in this way. And that one hurt, even more than the first twist, and it's the primary reason why, for the first time in all these years I've been reading this series, I'm not anticipating the next (and final) book with excitement but rather dreading it.

That said, bring it on. I'm scared - terrified, in fact, and right now I'm nowhere near ready yet, emotionally, to face that final chapter in what has become my absolute favourite book series ever - but I trust Derek Landy and most importantly, I trust him to do what is needed, not what the readers might want, no matter how much it might hurt. (That said, I'd be delighted if "what is needed" turns out to be a happy ending, with Skul & Val walking hand in hand into the sunset. Heh.)

ETA 29 August 2013. I'm done. I've read it. And ...

Just. God. That's all.

I'll leave a review later, if I ever get my thoughts coherent enough. But .. wow. Okay. I don't think any book has had this kind of an emotional impact on me before, and I'm just .. reeling. Numb.


ETA 29 July 2013: ONE MORE MONTH. One more long, LONG month. How will I even survive this waiting?? Gah. I don't know if I've ever looked forward to a book more than this.

ETA 24 May 2013: I have officially died. THAT COVER. I ... I have feels, you see. So many feels. And with this cover, Derek & Tom Percival have caused my premature death.

*curls up in a corner, whimpers*

Yay! We have a title!
And even more yay! We have a synopsis! Which is making me wibble and quiver and shudder with worry. And with fear.