|Original title||List Of Conflicts|
|Cover artist||Tom Percival|
|Genre||Children's novel, Fantasy novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||368 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-00-724161-5 (first edition, hardback)|
|Followed by||Playing with Fire (2008)|
Skulduggery Pleasant is the debut novel of Irish playwright Derek Landy, published in 2007. It is the first of the Skulduggery Pleasant novels. The novel crosses the horror, comedy, mystery, and fantasy genres.
The story follows the character Skulduggery Pleasant, an undead sorcerer and detective, with his partner Stephanie Edgley whose chosen name is Valkyrie Cain, and numerous magic-wielding allies as they try to prevent Nefarian Serpine from unleashing a weapon of terrible power on the world. The book was retitled Scepter Of The Ancients for the 2009 paperback release in the US and Canada. HarperCollins Audio also publishes the unabridged CD sets of the books read by Rupert Degas.
Stephanie Edgley's novelist uncle, Gordon dies, leaving her his vast mansion and the royalties from his best-selling books. At the reading of the will, a strange man in a tan overcoat, a hat, sunglasses and a scarf is present, who is left a piece of advice, along with Fergus and Beryl, Stephanie's unlikable aunt and uncle. Stephanie's aunt and uncle are given something as well: a seemingly useless brooch, a boat, and a car, which they both do not want. Spending a night alone in the mansion, Stephanie is attacked by a strange man, demanding she gives him a "key". As the man attacks Stephanie, the mysterious man in the tan overcoat from Gordon's funeral, known as Skulduggery Pleasant, arrives and saves her, throwing a fireball and then shooting the attacker. Skulduggery's disguise of a hat, wig and sunglasses fall off to reveal that he is an undead sorcerer, made up of only a skeleton held together by magic. He takes Stephanie as his partner and races to save the world from the Sceptre of the Ancients, a mysterious staff located only in folklore. However, one of his old rivals has already retrieved it and Skulduggery may be too late to save the world, with or without Stephanie.
There are many similarities to H. P. Lovecraft in the story. The Faceless Ones are likely inspired by the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and Lovecraft actually gets a mention by Derek Landy saying that his stories were inspired by myths about the Faceless Ones. Serpine also uses Lovecraft's name as an alias.
Skulduggery fought on the good side under the Grand Mage Meritorious during the secret war as one of the leaders but was caught in a deadly trap by Nefarian Serpine under Mevolent's command. He killed Skulduggery's wife and child in front of him. Furious, Skulduggery grabbed a dagger to kill Serpine with, but Serpine had planned this. The handle of the dagger was poisoned. Serpine tortured Skulduggery for a few days then killed him. After Skulduggery's death, his body was impaled on a spike and burned as an example to Mevolent's other enemies. Though as a result of a necromancer experiment, Skulduggery did not move on after his death but stayed and watched the war progress; to his horror, the tide turned and Mevolent gained advantage. In the books, Skulduggery's past life name (given name) has not been revealed, though author Derek Landy says his taken name was "Skulduggery Pleasant" before he died. Skulduggery accepts the sacrifice of individuals as part of war, but he is highly reluctant to allow this to happen to Stephanie (aka Valkyrie Cain). He protects her diligently throughout the novel. He is very witty, old styled and smart.
Stephanie Edgley (Valkyrie Cain and Darquesse)
Stephanie is a 12-year-old girl living in the quiet Irish seaside town of Haggard. She is the niece of Gordon Edgley, a recently deceased horror novelist, whose novels, she discovers, were not completely fictional. She first meets Skulduggery at Gordon's funeral; Gordon was a friend of Skulduggery's. Skulduggery tells Stephanie how Gordon once described her as "strong-willed, intelligent, sharp-tongued, doesn't suffer fools gladly", traits Gordon himself possessed. Stephanie proves herself to have all these qualities in spades, clashing wits with Skulduggery and annoying him to no end. She refuses to be left behind by Skulduggery when they first meet, despite his advice that she keep out of danger. He later comes to respect her abilities, recognizing them when she herself does not. Stephanie despised her boring, ordinary life; she did not have anything in common with her peers and though not disruptive at school, has a healthy disregard for authority. She takes great enjoyment in Skulduggery's more criminal escapades, such as breaking into a museum vault. She constantly proves herself to be every bit the equal of the adults, though some people underestimate her – her pet peeve is being called "child".
Though possessing no immediately obvious special abilities, other than fundamental running, swimming and fighting instincts which help her out of trouble at the outset of the novel, Stephanie later learns she is a descendant of the Last of the Ancients, who were the first to discover magic. She begins to develop her magic skills, manipulating air in a climactic battle scene and managing to create fire at the end of the novel. Skulduggery offers to help her master her magical abilities, so that she can assist him in adventures to come. Her main strengths, however, are her intelligence, her sheer strength of will and determination.
According to the novel's magical premise, knowing someone's given name gives you a limited amount of power over them. China Sorrows knows Stephanie's name, and uses this knowledge to prevent Stephanie from rescuing Skulduggery. Stephanie takes on the name Valkyrie Cain. Taking this name seals her given name away, keeping others from controlling her and breaking China's hold on her, allowing her to save Skulduggery. Although known as Valkyrie by other characters from this point onwards, Landy continues to refer to her in the third-person as Stephanie in the first book, and Skulduggery chooses to call her by Valkyrie. However, for the rest of the series, she is known as Valkyrie.
She got her name from the Norse warrior women who guard Valhalla (she first heard this name after listening to "Ride of the Valkyries", which she was woken by due to it being played extraordinarily loud throughout her house) and she got her last name from the word Cain. (Skulduggery Pleasant introduced the word to her, claiming that she had a "penchant for raising Cain", meaning that she makes trouble).
Tanith Low is a master swords-woman who is first introduced while battling a troll on London Bridge in the first book. Tanith does not work for the Elders (who are the leaders of the magical population-three Elders for the magical communities which are mainly countries.) Because she has a natural distrust of authority. Instead she merely, as Springheeled Jack says in 'Playing With Fire', "deals out what she calls justice". She is English and originally lived in London. Tanith Low's job is to apprehend or otherwise kill criminals and evil creatures who threaten national security.
Originally Derek Landy planned to kill off Tanith Low in the first book, but when he brought it to his editors they said it would be "too sad, for the readers." So Derek Landy agreed that he would keep her alive as long as he can torture her in some way in every book she is in. Despite common belief, he does not hate Tanith Low, as he stated in his Down Under tour in Perth on the 20th of August 2012.
She befriends Valkyrie/Stephanie in Book 1. During a conversation with Valkyrie, Tanith expresses a desire for a little sister and she and Valkyrie develop an affectionate sisterly relationship. Valkyrie refers to Tanith as being like a sister to her in the fourth book. Tanith is also known to have an elder brother whom she states she 'loves to death'. Despite her softer, warmer side, Tanith can be very ruthless, sending two Cleavers to their death in order to distract some Hollow Men to rescue Skulduggery from Serpine. She is also an excellent fighter. She takes on Serpine's White Cleaver in combat at the end of the first book, and almost wins, but the White Cleaver throws his scythe through her back and she nearly dies.
The villain Serpine is an evil sorcerer who once served under Mevolent as one of his Infamous Three Generals. He dabbles in necromancy. He accidentally destroys the Book of Names with the Sceptre preventing the return of the Faceless Ones, enraging Serpine who attempts to kill Stephanie but Skulduggery stops him and avenges the death of his family by vaporizing Serpine with the Sceptre.
Serpine is highly intelligent and a skilled manipulator who managed to get Sagacious Tome to join him. He is a fanatic who is believed by many (Skulduggery included) to be insane, although the Faceless Ones (as proved in Book 2 Playing with Fire and Book 3 The Faceless Ones) are actually real.
The greatest weapon in Serpine's arsenal is his right hand which some dark power has stripped of all its flesh and possesses the ability to put individuals in great pain, eventually killing them when pointed at. When he uses his right hand, purple vapour shoots towards his target. He was taught this by High Priest Tenebrae after Serpine surrounded the necromancer's temple.
China is very beautiful, making anyone fall in love with her at first sight, she is fluent in the language of magic and has hidden symbols all over her body. she is very secretive but as time goes on Valkyrie gets to know her and they almost become friends. She used to worship the dark Gods (The faceless Ones), as her whole family did (including Mr Bliss, her Brother).
For minor characters see the List of minor characters in Skulduggery Pleasant.
Skulduggery Pleasant has opened to largely positive reviews by critics.
- Phillip Ardagh (The Guardian):
- It's exciting, pacy, nicely handled and it's fun. There's nothing worthy about it, and it's all the better for that. And, I might add, it's self-contained. Landy may well revisit these characters – I sincerely hope he does – but it's a pleasingly rounded tale, which is refreshing in these days of endless open-ended books of never-ending series.
- Nathan Nicholls (Whitby Gazette):
- There is no expense spared by Landy in this book and I would have to say that everyone who could be bothered to read it, would definitely be drawn into it and certainly enjoy it. ... Something for everyone and everything for someone, Skulduggery Pleasant is easily my book of the year so far. Read it!
- Christina Hardyment (The Independent):
- Landy is an established horror writer, and the combats between Skulduggery, Serpine and his legions of Hollow Men and vampires rival the climaxes of the Potter films for hair-raising effects; it isn't often that writing makes you feel as if you are watching a film.
- Derek Landy's debut, Skulduggery Pleasant ... has a distinctly Horowitzian humour and verve to it, being a detective story featuring a wizard's skeleton as hero. When Stephanie's uncle dies, she discovers his horror stories weren't fiction, and that evil forces are after her for a mysterious key. Wisecracking madly, the duo must survive each other as well as Hell. At the end of it, readers of 12+ may well be regretting their consumption of chocolate eggs.
Skulduggery Pleasant won the Red House Children's Book Award, the Bolton Children's Book Award and the Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Award. The book was also recommended for confident readers (9+) by the Richard & Judy Children's Book Club in 2007. It also won the Portsmouth Book Awards in 2008, having been selected by school children in Portsmouth. Also, in 2009, it won the Kernow Youth and Grampian Book Awards by a majority vote. In 2010, Skulduggery Pleasant was awarded the title of Irish Book of the Decade, after being up against some of the world's best sellers.
- Red House Children's Book Award.
- Landy, p. 13
- Review at The Guardian
- Review at the Witby Gazette
- Review at The Independent
- Short Review at the Times
- Red House Children's Book Award
- Bolton Children's Book Award 2008 at Bolton Literacy Trust
- YTF 2008
- Skulduggery Pleasant UK, Australia and New Zealand Official Website
- Skulduggery Pleasant US and Canada Official Website