ETA 22.08.2013: third re-read, review not changed (except that I obviously know a little bit more about the "what next" things, but not yet everything).
When I read this for the first time, way back in late August, the only comment I could summon was "whoah".
Then I let it simmer for a month, and then picked it up again for a re-read. This time, I didn't devour it in five hours - instead, I took it nice and slow, spending nearly a week with it, savouring every bit of it.
And my main comment is still "whoah". Even though I now knew all the twists and reveals and jokes and heartbreaking moments there were. But it was just that
good, also the second time around, now that I had time to linger over certain passages, appreciate the light-hearted moments, wince at what I knew was coming...
Of the series so far, this is my favourite. Not necessarily because of the twist and the reveals, but ... I enjoyed the plot, but this, more than any of the previous books, was all about Valkyrie and Skulduggery and their relationship. The latter was certainly put to test here, and ... I think my heart broke there, for a moment, before it got better again.
Not everyone is going to love this one; not even every fan of the series so far. Those who complained about the darkness in Dark Days
and Mortal Coil
in particular will find this one, with the extra helpings of gore and violence, even worse, I suspect. Because, oh yes, there was gore, and there was violence, and I can see that many would hesitate to give this book to their nine-year-old (although I'd suspect that nine-year-old would be far more likely to go "ohh, co-ooooooool!" about it all than their mother would; then again, I'm the age of the typical mother of a typical nine-year-old and I thought "ohh, co-oooool!" too, so who knows).
I love these characters. I do. The more twisted and grey they get, the more we find out about them, the more fascinating they become - it's that struggle, that struggle with their own nature, which makes them so wonderful. Skulduggery is on a path towards redemption, but by following him, Valkyrie is now on a path towards tidal waves of darkness - oh yes, she doesn't want to, but which part of her is going to win? And China... oh, China. The past is catching up with her, as it is with Skulduggery. Where will they go from here?
I'm so intensely curious about what is going to happen in the next book and the final trilogy in general. Kenny's story, framing this book as it was, left so many possibilities dangling in the air. What is going to happen?
I have my theories, but I trust they will all be wrong, and I'm going to love being wrong.
Now... all that said, the reason I'm giving this book five stars is because I loved, loved, loved it. Objectively, it's not perfect. There are bits - especially some of the parts with Caelan - that, well, felt a little lazy. I mean, I loved them; I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I enjoyed them, but honestly, to me that didn't come off as Landy's best writing ever. Of course the whole Caelan thing was always going to be a parody of Twilight, but at times, it came off a bit too
much as a cheap shot at it. Still, I liked the message, and making fun of Twilight is just fine as far as I'm concerned, so I'm not all that bothered about it.
And I'd have liked an explanation about the Alice/Alison name change - I'm willing to believe this wasn't a mistake and Alice is a nickname for Alison, but it didn't really come off as one. Or why wasn't Ravel counted among the Dead Men when Ghastly named them at the Ball? Did he leave Ravel out because he was still angry with him? Had Ravel not joined the others yet at that point? Or was it just an error that no one caught? Add those bits to the occasional typo and missed word, and I think another round of copy-editing might have done the book a world of good... that said, the problems weren't major enough to take me out of the story.