Please note this review contains spoilers.
This is the second book to focus on the female character. Bec. She is left alone with the depressed and morbid Dervish while Grubbs and Kernel go with Beranabus into the demon worlds to search for the mysterious master of Lord Loss – the Shadow. Until events bring them all back together again. As always high emotions are mixed with a high body count. Plenty of gore for the horror fans but alongside this we have deep complex relationships trying to muddle through the quagmire of irrational – and often selfish – human emotions. Be a hero, save the world – but, if you survive, you still gotta live with the horror afterwards – kind of thing.
The book's core concept revolves around death. The older characters acknowledge their age and thus their weaknesses. The younger characters look at those they've lost. Interestingly as Bec is a girl we see a more maternal side to the devastation brought about by the demon kills - at one point she disregards common sense to protect the newborn babies in a maternity ward. All the characters see death as a horrible, terrible thing, but a female perspective on it is much more empathic – and very well done coming from the pen of a male author. This idea of 'death' is compounded in the revelation that the Shadow is in fact Death – a little cliched maybe, but probably not if you're a young adult who hasn't come across it before. I do worry this is a hard one to pull off successfully and am eager to see what Shan does with it.
I felt this was a better book than No. 6 although it still felt a little uneventful in places – is it the sign of an overstretched series? Or am I asking too much? The familiar layout of 'we're totally doomed, we're miraculously saved, oh no, doomed again, then saved, then doomed etc' is still present although much better handled, I thought. Although characters have fallen (i.e. died) before, this was the first book to feel like we genuinely scarified a few for the good of the many – maybe because we saw it through Bec's eyes?
Horror-wise, we get a werewolf attack, a cruise-ship full of slain passangers turned flesh eating zombies and a fist-fight between the Shadow and Beranabus in his demonic form. More horrific this time around however is the ever present closeness of 'death'. Dervish has a heart attack and Sharmila, the Indian lady, loses her legs. Beranabus dies (maybe!) and Sharmila offers up her life so the others may survive. Gripping stuff.
This continues to be a very good series for 12yr+ readers – those with strong stomachs anyway.