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Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire

Review

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire

The cover of Derek Landy's inaugural SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT novel shows the eponymous skeleton in his trademark hat and sunglasses next to the legend, "And he's the good guy." Good doesn't even begin to describe the fun to be found between the covers of that book and, fortunately for readers, the second installment in the series, SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: PLAYING WITH FIRE, takes the fun to a whole new level. 

Well into her apprenticeship with Skulduggery, Valkyrie Cain --- the girl formerly known as Stephanie Edgley --- is fighting alongside her sardonic teacher. As the story unfolds, the pair defeats a homicidal villain known as Scapegrace, who sees his intended killing spree as a form of art. But the victory is short-lived as a new, far more powerful adversary appears on the scene. 

Baron Vengeous, a terrible baddie from Skulduggery's past, escapes from prison. (In a clever nod to This is Spinal Tap, Skulduggery notes that on the villain scale of one to ten, Vengeous "turns it all the way up to eleven.") The Baron, much like Serpine from the first book, is on a mission to revive the Faceless Ones from the dead. His plan involves summoning a beast known as the Grotesquery, a Frankenstein-like hodgepodge of body bits. With the Grostequery and the magical armor of the powerful necromancer Lord Vile, nothing can stand in the Baron's way. Except, perhaps, the fire-flinging Valkyrie and her dead mentor. 

In their quest to stop the Baron, the pair encounter Springheeled Jack, a creature who strikes fear into the hearts of Londoners at night and an infected assassin called Billy-Ray Sanguine. The lightning-fast story offers plenty of twists and a touch of paranoia as Valkyrie and Skulduggery come to understand that there's far more to this plot than they originally imagined. 

Fans of Landy's initial outing will be very pleased with the second book, which, I'm happy to say, is even funnier than the first. Landy has a talent for the snappy banter between Valkyrie and Skulduggery, perfectly framing their relationship as both friends and teacher/student. Valkyrie is settling in to her role as a descendent of the Ancients who can control elements. It's fun to watch her grow more confident in her abilities but, at the same time, acknowledge that she still relies on Skulduggery's knowledge and assistance. Although the story moves along briskly, Landy manages to breathe life into all his characters and allow them to grow as events unfold. 

Realizing that there was a higher force controlling the Baron, the book ends on a pleasantly ominous note: "Bad things are coming for us, Valkyrie." Bad things for Valkyrie and Pleasant perhaps, but only great things for readers, who will be eagerly awaiting the next book in this increasingly entertaining series.

Reviewed by Brian Farrey on August 25, 2009

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire
by Derek Landy