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. Present at the reading of his will are Stephanie and her parents Desmond and Melissa, Stephanie's none-too-well-liked uncle and aunt Fergus and Beryl, and a strange man in a tan overcoat, hat, frizzy wig, sunglasses, and scarf named Skulduggery Pleasant. Stephanie's aunt and uncle are given an ugly brooch, a boat, and a car, (none of which they want), while Stephanie's parents are left a villa in France. Stephanie herself is left with the entirety of Gordon's remaining estate, including the impressive royalties on his best-selling books, and a mansion filled with his possessions. Skulduggery Pleasant is left with a seemingly useless piece of advice.

After visiting the mansion, Melissa and Stephanie are stranded by car troubles and a heavy rainstorm. Calling a tow-truck, Melissa opts to return while letting Stephanie spend time in her new property. After reading some of her uncle's latest manuscript (to be published posthumously) and fixing herself a snack, Stephanie receives a threatening phone call. The stranger demands she hand over a "key". When she refuses, the man breaks in and tries to attack her. She is saved by the mysterious Mr. Pleasant, who throws a fireball (which is produced from clicking his fingers) at the man. Upon discovering his imperiousness to flames, Pleasant shoots the attacker, forcing him to flee the scene. During the fight, Skulduggery's disguise is knocked off, revealing him to be a real life skeleton held together by magic.

Upon realizing that her uncle was murdered, and the extensive nature of the secret world of mages and sorcerers, Stephanie decides to escape her previously boring and tedious life. She begins by helping Skulduggery investigate Gordon's death. Over the course of their search, Skulduggery and Stephanie gradually uncover a greater plot for world domination. Stephanie's uncle had unearthed 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 brother Fergus' wife, Beryl. The advice was a clue for Skulduggery to notice this.

Stephanie and Skulduggery, aided by the boxer/tailor named Ghastly Bespoke, the librarian and informant China Sorrows, and the English professional swords-woman Tanith Low, attempt to prevent Nefarian Serpine, the originator of the plot and murderer of Stephanie's uncle, from obtaining the Sceptre. Serpine once served under the evil wizard Mevolent, and worshiped the Faceless Ones as evil Gods. Mevolent, in an attempt to spread the evil religion and possibly bring back the Faceless Ones from their extra-dimensional banishment, waged a secret war on the wizard community. Skulduggery opposed Mevolent in this war four hundred years ago, when he was still alive. He became ensnared in a trap by Serpine, was forced to his wife and child be murdered before his eyes, then suffer several days of torture until he was finally killed by Serpine. Due to his extreme desire for revenge, and ties with unfinished business, Skulduggery resurrected himself. As nothing more than a bag of bones, Skulduggery put himself back together, got up, and finished the war.

After a race against Serpine to find the Septre in the underground caves, Skulduggery and Stephanie meet with the enigmatic and incredibly strong Mr. Bliss, in the hopes that he will be able to help them keep the Septre out of Serpine's hands for good. He betrays them however, handing Serpine the Sceptre. Sagacious Tome, one of the Elders of the Magical Sanctuary that heads Ireland's wizard government, 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, a storage of magical objects and artifacts. Serpine's original plan was to use the Book of Names housed there to control the world, thus being able to simultaneously enforce Faceless One whorsip while searching unhindered for one who could show him how to bring them back. However the spell protecting the book is too strong, and only all three Elders' consent - or their deaths - would allow anyone to approach or use it. In response to this, Serpine murders Tome. Mr. Bliss, having been playing against Serpine all along, tries to stop Serpine at this point, but is repelled.

Skulduggery and Stephanie, having sneaked into the Sanctuary, witness the unfolding double and triple-crossing. Skuldggery attacks Serpine, with the Book of Names being destroyed in the ensuing struggle. Angered at his loss, Serpine tortures 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. 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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