Dark Days is the fourth book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series.
Dark Days is the fourth book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series.

I received my copy of Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days in the mail on Monday.  Two days later, I’ve read the entire thing and am anxiously already awaiting book five (titled Mortal Coil, according to Wikipedia), which, as announced on the last page of Dark Days, will be out this September (overseas – thank goodness for Amazon.co.uk).

I’ve been a fan of the concept of Skulduggery Pleasant before I even read the first book – a skeleton detective who takes a young girl, Stephanie, under his wing, and together they go on adventures.  I mean, sure, it’s a middle grade book, written for the 10 and up young male set but, just like Harry Potter and its ilk, the adventures of Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain (the name Stephanie takes on) could be just as easily enjoyed by adults as kids.  In fact, in certain aspects, I almost think I enjoy them more as an adult than I would have as a child of the intended age group.

For some reason I’m not entirely sure, Skulduggery Pleasant doesn’t seem to have caught on in America as much as it has overseas, where it’s received numerous awards and acclaim.  I wonder if it’s just because Americans are tired of the middle grade fantasy, Harry Potter imitators lacking in the same quality that made Potter a hit to begin with.  I have to admit, having written a novel in that genre myself, I’ve had difficulty getting representation and publication – that market is still being flooded with people trying to be the next Harry Potter.

Though I’ve never read a Potter novel, specifically to avoid being influenced by them in my own writing, there’s no denying that any adventure in the same genre will be compared to the boy wizard.  Heck, I’ve even heard (ignorant) people refer to the Lord of the Rings movies as Potter rip-offs.  Yes, I corrected them.

Dark Days was released April 1st in the UK, with a US release date as-of-yet unannounced, and I excitedly gobbled up the entirety of its 415 pages in two sittings.  Spoilers on for those who haven’t read a Skulduggery book yet.

More after the jump.

At the end of The Faceless Ones, the third book in what I’ve heard is a 9-book cycle (not sure if that’s still true or not), Skulduggery was pulled into the Hell-like dimension where The Faceless Ones reside, where he would surely either be killed (if such a thing was possible), tortured, and would more than likely be insane.  Valkyrie Cain, his teenage sidekick, has been searching for almost a year now for his original skull (he is a skeleton, after all), an anchor that will allow her to open a portal to the other dimension and rescue her fried.  Of course, since his name is in the title, it’s not too much of a spoiler to find out that he is rescued (though slightly more unbalanced than before), just in time to work with his team, and a couple of new faces, to stop a sorcerer intent on taking down the establishment that framed him for murder and imprisoned him for 200 years.

I was actually really fascinated with the first 100 pages of Dark Days, before the titular character returns, while Cain and her co-horts search the globe for Pleasant’s missing skull.  While we primarily get the end of their search, the adventures hinted at would make for a pretty cool comic mini-series, I’d say.

One thing about the Skulduggery Pleasant series that I’ve always enjoyed, and it continues through Dark Days, is the brisk pace at which the novels move.  There’s very little time for calm moments, and the action rarely lets up.  While the pace has been established, and we’re not even halfway into the 9-book tale that author Derek Landy intends to tell, I do find myself wanting more information on the hints that have been placed throughout the last couple of books.  I know they will ultimately be resolved, and I have to remind myself we’re only four books in, but having to wait a year between books (typically) really tests my patience when the pacing of these books allows for small, interesting hints of storylines to carry over novel after novel.  I’m specifically referring, primarily, to Stephanie’s relationship with her family and her reflection, who takes her place in her life while she’s out adventuring.  There have been hints of more of a story there, but the books rarely have time to spend more than one scene with these characters.  In fact, it was suggested that perhaps Stephanie would run into her reflection and father during the finale, but this never seemed to occur.

There definitely seem to be Dark Days ahead for Skulduggery Pleasant and his pals, and this book definitely seems to be the start of some major changes for the remainder of the series.  While I think The Faceless Ones may be the best book of the series so far, Dark Days is definitely a fantastic read, with tons of fun and interesting advances in the plot.  My main faults in the book, and they’re hardly faults, are the not-very-spectacular ending (compared to the previous book) and a final chapter twist that was a bit too heavily hinted at to really be surprising.  And, while I didn’t mind it at all (and I am reading the UK version, so the US version may be different) is that Dark Days is definitely more violent than the other books of the series.  Bones are broken, bodies sliced and diced, heads shot, holes blown in people…punches aren’t pulled in the series, and Dark Days ups the antes with a ton of bodily harm on most of the main characters, including a particularly nasty torture scene involving rusty nails.

People turned off by the prospect of reading a “kid’s book” need to take no more than fifteen minutes with a Skulduggery Pleasant book to realize that this is no mere children’s novel.  It really can be enjoyed by fantasy fans of all ages, and should be.  There’s a movie supposedly on the horizon (probably 2011, if rumors are to be believed, which they usually aren’t) and, if the quality is good, I’d venture to say we may be seeing a ton of Skulduggery Pleasant in the coming years.  And I can think of no other character as deserving.  Highly recommended.