Monday 18 December 2017

Review: Children: Skulduggery Pleasant: Death Bringer by Derek Landy

HarperCollins, €12.99

Derek Landy is a name you'd better start getting used to. His Skulduggery Pleasant fantasy-horror series is currently top of the children's bestseller lists both here and in the UK, and his star is on a rapid ascent.

With sales of over a million copies worldwide and a Hollywood film on the way, this young Irish writer who used to work on his parents' vegetable farm in north Co Dublin is hot property.

Often a series can go off the boil, but Derek's sixth Skulduggery novel, the wonderfully titled Death Bringer, doesn't disappoint.

To recap for those who haven't read the first five episodes yet (and I'd highly recommend doing so), Stephanie Edgley is an Irish teenager with unusual powers.

At her uncle's funeral (a famous writer who also had strange powers), she meets and teams up with a skeleton detective, one Mr Skulduggery Pleasant, and together they start to ''kick evil very hard in the face''.

In this instalment, Stephanie, now called Valkyrie Cain, and Skulduggery are trying to uncover the Necromancers' secret before it's too late. The Necromancers no longer need Valkyrie to be their 'Death Bringer', the person who will dissolve the doors between life and death, but who is their new 'Death Bringer', and when will her powers be unleashed?

Meanwhile, Valkyrie is seeing a vampire behind her teleporting boyfriend's back, providing some of the funniest scenes in the book.

''Marry me,'' the vampire begs her. ''Dude, I'm 16,'' she replies.

As in the former Skulduggery books, the dialogue is whip smart and crackles along at a furious pace.

But there is a new depth to the prose, a sense that Landy is trying to put some structure or form on the world, to help his young readers navigate the thorny journey of life:

''Love is finding someone better than you are and holding on for dear life.''

''Whenever someone says you don't have to tell them (something), you have to tell them. That's a rule. It's how communication works.''

Landy has two strengths that set him apart and make his writing world class -- his dastardly clever, furiously teen-friendly sense of humour which had this reviewer snorting with laughter at several (inopportune) moments; and his stormingly inventive characters, such as the Jitter Girls, triplets born in 1931 who are possessed by an evil force and now roam the world as giant, ghostly six-year-olds.

The 'Girls' have a stiff, jerky walk and a terrifying urge to kill and are a tour de force of deranged originality.

This is a writer at the height of his powers and Landy is getting better with every book. And there are three more books to come in this mind-blowingly brilliant series.

Landy is being feted as the new JK Rowling, and for good reason. Whatever your age, read them and enjoy the ride. As Skulduggery says: ''Embrace your inner lunatic. Fun times guaranteed.''

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb's latest book for readers of 10+ is Ask Amy Green: Love and Other Drama-ramas.

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