Review: Playing With Fire by Derek Landy

125. Playing With Fire by Derek Landy, read by Rupert Degas
Publication: Harper Audio (2008), Audiobook, 6h57min
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Action/Adventure, YA
Read: May ?-June 1, 2010
Source: Bought
Summary from Amazon:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant:

Ace Detective…Snappy Dresser…Razor – tongued Wit…Crackerjack Sorcerer…and Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton…

…as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented 12-year-old. These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil.

The end of the world? Over his dead body.


I read the first Skulduggery Pleasant book way back in September 2008, before I even started this blog, but I still remember how frickin’ awesome that audiobook was. It’s what introduced me to Rupert Degas, one of my favorite narrators (despite that unfortunate Cirque du Freak incident). It’s what introduced me to Derek Landy, who writes great movies as well as books. And it’s what introduced me to the wonderful world of Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain (aka Stephanie Edgley), my two new favorite paranormal detectives. I like them even better than Harry Dresden! Though maybe that’s because they aren’t woobies. (Well, maybe Skulduggery is a woobie. Just a bit.)

It took me so long to get around to this second book because I was, uh, kind of saving it. But now that the fourth book has come out, and the fifth book is coming out soon, I can let myself go ahead and catch up! And I had a lot of fun catching up in this book, lemme tell ya.

It does start off kind of slow, which is weird because it starts off with a chase/fight scene and you’d think that wouldn’t be slow, but it is. Kind of. I must have listened to the first five minutes at least four times before I actually had the patience to continue onward– maybe it’s better in the paper version. Dunno. But, after the first revving up of the “real” plot, the rest of the book doesn’t slow down for one second! I think there’s more fight scenes and action sequences in here than even in a Die Hard movie, and that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

It’s not all action, however (though action plays a big part). There’s some interesting character things, mostly concerning Valkyrie, who’s been ignoring her non-magic life in favor of the magic one. This means she’s been missing out on things like hanging out with her parents, her first kiss, talking to her friends, etc. It also means she doesn’t have to go to school or do homework, which is pretty awesome, but, personally, I thought she was going a little overboard with the “ignore everything but my magic studies” stuff. It’s important to have balance, especially when you’re young, and luckily Valkyrie starts to figure that out, with help from her friends and family.

One thing I really like about this series is that Valkyrie is so independent. Skulduggery may be her teacher and her boss, but she doesn’t overly depend on him to get her out of sticky situations (though he’s good at doing that). She’s learned how to fight for herself in this book, which is a considerable step up from the last book when she was basically helpless every step of the way. She’s getting really good at magic and physically fighting, and though she can’t beat every baddie she can at least outsmart most of them, and that’s pretty nifty.

I do think she’s a bit hard, emotionally and so on, I mean. I wouldn’t exactly want her to be my friend, but I would want her at my back if I needed some help. I’m hoping that with the series continuing on she’ll become more rounded, not just focusing on magic but also on relationships with those she loves, and I hope she’ll continue kicking paranormal baddie ass!

Skulduggery is almost an entirely different personality from Valkyrie. In this book we get some more inight into his character, and he’s a much more broken man than maybe was seen in the first book. He uses humor as a cover-up, but he genuinely seems to care about people (Valkyrie) and the fate of the world, and I honestly can’t wait to get to know him better. Also, his humor? Is FUNNY. He and Valkyrie continuous get into these little verbal spars with each other and it’s a great way to lighten things up, especially after big battle scenes.

Okay! Moving on from characters. The plot in this second book was slightly related to the first, in that it has stuff about the Nameless Ones and things. But it also ramps things up about six notches, introducing all sorts of conspiracies, new baddies, new threats, new plots and a whole other aspect of Valkyrie’s heritage in regards to the Nameless Ones. I won’t talk about it too much, because of spoilers, but it was a pretty jam-packed book, and I can totally see it as a starting point for the rest of the series. Sort of like book one was the prologue and book two is the first episode.

Rupert Degas is a superb narrator, as (almost) always, and I think in this one he’s actually improved a little bit on his Valkryie voice! The accents are great, too; not only Irish but also American, British, etc. His Skulduggery voice tended to skip around, though. I think he’s supposed to be almost gravelly and deep, but he kept edging up higher for some reason. It was only a little bit distracting.

I really enjoyed Playing With Fire. I was seriously exhausted by the end of it, and I actually had to take a break in the middle for a few days, but it was a really good book and I can’t wait to start the next one.

Unpleasant Things

This one’s actually more gory and, since there’s a lot more fight scenes, more violent than the first book. The first book had torture but this one has people pulling their skin off (painfully), limbs getting chopped off, stabbings, bitings, shootings, near-drownings, car crashes, kneeing of groins, giant spiders trying to eat people, a Frankenstein thing that tries to kill everyone, and probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten. For all that, though, it’s actually nothing more than you’d see in a PG-13 movie (probably one with vampires), and it’s more action-orientated than horror-orientated, so it’s not overly descriptive of anything horrible.


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Other reviews: Miss Erin (+) | The Written World (+) | On the Nightstand (+) | temporaryworlds book reviews (+) | Dragonfly Book Review (+)

Be sure to check out Derek Landy’s blog, because he’s been clearing up some confusing stuff about the character bios (like how old Skulduggery actually is).

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