Skulduggery Pleasant

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For the series of the same name, see Skulduggery Pleasant (series).
Skulduggery Pleasant
Skulduggery Pleasant book cover.jpg
Author Derek Landy
Original title List Of Conflicts
Cover artist Tom Percival
Country Republic of Ireland Ireland
Language English
Genre Children's novel, Fantasy novel, mild horror novel, detective novel, comedy novel, adventure novel
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 368 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN 0-00-724161-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 77012018
Followed by Playing with Fire (2008)

Skulduggery Pleasant (also known as Skulduggery Pleasant: Sceptre of the Ancients) 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 who goes by the name 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 Sceptre 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.

It won the coveted Red House Children's Book Award and the Hampshire Book Award in 2007.[1]

Warner Bros. was at one point in talks to create a live action film based on the book.

Plot summary[edit]

Stephanie Edgley's novelist uncle, Gordon Edgley, 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, a frizzy wig, sunglasses and a scarf is present (called Skulduggery Pleasant) along with Fergus and Beryl, Stephanie's none-too-liked aunt and uncle. Stephanie's aunt and uncle are given something: a seemingly useless brooch, a boat, and a car, (which they both do not want). Stephanie's parents (Desmond and Melissa Edgley) are left a villa in France while Stephanie is left Gordon's mansion along with all his riches and possessions.

Spending a night alone in the mansion, Stephanie is attacked by a strange man around midnight demanding she hands over a "key". The man attacks Stephanie when she refuses to let him inside and to give him the "key" and the mysterious Mr. Pleasant arrives and saves her, throwing a fireball (which is produced from clicking his fingers) at the man who is discovered to be fire-proof - even laughing and asking for more. Upon this discovery Skulduggery Pleasant shoots the attacker in his shoulder with a six-slot revolver and the man is forced to flee from the scene.

During the fight, Skulduggery's disguise of a widebrimmed hat, wig, scarf and sunglasses fall off to reveal that he is an undead mage, made up of only a skeleton held together by magic.

Upon slowly realising that her uncle was murdered, Stephanie, wanting to escape her previously boring and tedious life, helps Skulduggery investigate his mysterious death. Skulduggery and Stephanie gradually uncover a greater plot for world domination. Stephanie's uncle discovered an ancient weapon used by the first sorcerers, the Ancients, to defeat their tyrannical gods, the Faceless Ones. He sealed this deadly weapon, the Sceptre of the Ancients, in a maze beneath the house Stephanie inherited. The "key" is in fact the old, insignificant-looking brooch left by her uncle to his other brother's wife, Beryl.

Stephanie and Skulduggery, aided by an immensely strong tailor named Ghastly Bespoke, a librarian China Sorrows and an English professional swordswoman Tanith Low attempt to prevent the main antagonist, Nefarian Serpine, from obtaining the Sceptre. Serpine once served under the evil wizard Mevolent who waged a secret war on the wizard community attempting to take over the world. Skulduggery opposed Mevolent in this war four hundred years ago, when he was still alive. He became ensnared in a trap by Serpine, his wife and child murdered before his eyes and himself killed after several days torture by Serpine. He returned from the grave, or rather a river, as a bag of bones (literally) and got up to continue the war after putting himself together.

Mr Bliss, China's brother, betrays the Sanctuary to Serpine and hands him the Sceptre. Sagacious Tome, one of the Elders, also reveals himself a traitor, and allows the two other Elders, Eachan Meritorious and Morwenna Crow, to be murdered by Serpine. Serpine invades the Sanctuary and enters the Repository. Serpine's original plan was to use the Book of Names to control the World into submission to find the one man who could him how to bring back the Faceless Ones, but he had not realised that all three Elders' consent - or their deaths - was needed to remove the defensive field around it to use it. In a fit of rage, Serpine murders Tome. Mr Bliss then revealed himself as a double-crosser, as he never was with Serpine at all.

Now working as a detective and with Stephanie's help, Skulduggery attacks Serpine, with the Book of Names being destroyed in the process, though earlier in the fight Stephanie glimpsed her own name in the book.. Angered at his loss, Serpine tortured Stephanie with his Red Hand, but Skulduggery destroys him with the Sceptre, breaking the Sceptre's power in the process. At the conclusion of the novel, Skulduggery offers to take Stephanie on as his assistant, partner and student in sorcery; Stephanie has discovered through the course of the novel's events that her family are descendants of the Ancients and she herself has magic abilities.

Throughout the plot, Stephanie is told multiple times that she must choose a name should she wish to remain in the magical community for several reasons. At the near end of the book, Stephanie Edgely chooses to leave behind her old self and takes on the name of Valkyrie Cain.


Skulduggery Pleasant[edit]

Skulduggery fought against Mevolent under Grand Mage Meritorious during the secret war as one of the leaders and is in a group called The Dead Men 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 necromancers 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 smart and witty.

Stephanie Edgley (Valkyrie Cain)[edit]

Stephanie is a 12-year-old girl living in the quiet Irish seaside town of Haggard. With her surroundings, she is forced into maturing at a much faster pace. She is also 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",[2] 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 was one of 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 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[edit]

Tanith Low is a master swords-woman who is first introduced while battling a troll on Westminster 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 20 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.

Tanith also features in her own book 'The Maleficent Seven'. Where she gets a group together to go hunt down and destroy objects called the God Killers.

Nefarian Serpine[edit]

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 himself and then attempts to kill Stephanie but Skulduggery stops him and avenges the death of his family by turning Serpine to dust with the Sceptre.

Serpine is highly intelligent and a skilled manipulator who managed to persuade 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 Red Right Hand which has the dark power to put individuals in great pain, eventually killing them when pointed at. He was taught this by High Priest Tenebrae after Serpine surrounded the necromancer's temple.

China Sorrows[edit]

China is very, magically 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 and the library that she owns. She is quite secretive, but as time goes on Valkyrie gets to know her and eventually become friends in the fifth book. China used to worship the Dark Gods, (The Faceless Ones), as her whole family did (including Mr Bliss, her Brother)who dies. China helps Skulduggery and Valkyrie out many times and has fought alongside them, though she calls herself neutral, stating '"I am loyal to one person only. That person me.'" She is also as Skulduggery "Not Trustable" and got in a fight with a later character Eliza Scorn who blows up China's library and also all of her cars.

Minor characters[edit]

For minor characters see the List of minor characters in Skulduggery Pleasant.


Skulduggery Pleasant has opened to largely positive reviews by critics.

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.[3]
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![4]
Landy is an established writer, and the combats between Skulduggery, Serpine and his legions of Hollow Men 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.[5]
Derek Landy's debut, Skulduggery Pleasant ... has a distinctly Horowitzian humour and verve to it, being a detective story featuring a sorcerer skeleton as hero.[6]


Skulduggery Pleasant won the Red House Children's Book Award,[7] the Bolton Children's Book Award[8] and the Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Award.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]


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