So, starting these was pretty ambitious- as including the extra short story collections, plus the main series, there were a total of 15 books in this universe to read that I had never even touched before. Because there were so many, hopefully you’ll forgive me if give a little less depth than usual and do more of an overview.
Also, for anyone who cares to count this series saw me into the new year and, therefore, my new 2021 reading challenge and comprised of 6 books into this year’s running total.
Firstly, I have nothing but praise for these books. I LOVED them, they are my new favourite thing. I have never read anything that was such an easy, enjoyable read, which made me laugh- out loud– that was also interesting, nuanced, had great world building, great magical system, amazing characters (plus a strong, smart lead female character). Yes, there are lots of books but none of them feel stale, or like they are filling time to get to the next book that has the big climax. The books have excellent diversity, even in the early ones, which came out quite a while ago (2007), when author’s were less conscious of this kind of thing and so its good to see. Every character has depth and exists in its own mini- universe, making me think that if Landy wanted to make a spin off story about every single character, no matter how minor, he could.
A not- so- brief- summary
It’s difficult to decide who the main character is, most of it centres around Valkyrie Cain’s journey but it’s in conjunction with Skulduggery’s. The interesting thing being that we never hear the story from Skulduggery’s point of view. The story jumps between POV’s all the time but never Skulduggery’s, despite the series being named after him.
The story begins when Valkyrie Cain’s Uncle, Gordan, who is a famous author, dies and she is left his enormous house and fortune. It is because of this she becomes in danger, as Gordan had found and hidden an ancient, powerful weapon, for which he was killed. This is how Valkyrie meets Skulduggery because he was both friends with Gordan, has suspicions about his death, which appeared to be a heart attack and also, because he happens to be a detective.
Through Skulduggery, Valkyrie is introduced to the hidden world of magic and sorcerers. She discovers that ability to perform magic runs in her genes, as it does in her whole family but that not everyone is capable of it, even if they have the heritage (such as Gordon, who used the magical world as inspiration for his novels instead and helped Skulduggery’s investigations with research instead).
Valkyrie begins the story as Stephanie Edgley but has to take a new name (Valkyrie Cain) to seal her ‘given’ name, so that other sorcerers cannot use it against her (your given name can be used to control you, until you seal it by taking a new name). We learn that each sorcerer has three names- the name they are given by the parents, the name they take and their ‘true name’. Your true name is somehow connected to the source of magic, if someone else learns it, they can use it to control you, if you learn it, it means you can become an extremely powerful sorcerer.
In trying to find out who killed her Uncle, Valkyrie becomes embroiled in the world of magic and when they figure out who it was, their plot and save the day, she chooses to continue to be involved in magic and to train as Skulduggery’s partner, despite being only 12 at the start.
Across the series, there is usually one ‘big baddy’, a looming threat that spans about three of the novels at once, as well as over arching story lines, which span across several books. Please forgive me for not going into anymore detail about the plots across all the books because it’s impossible to do without spoilers and, also, its really really long and I don’t want to! Go read them yourselves, sneaky people!
The world of Skulduggery Pleasant, the magical world and its’ history
The magic that different sorcerers can perform is categorised into elementals (can manipulate the elements), necromancers (death magic) and adepts; adepts can pretty much do anything but they have to focus on one specific branch of anything- i.e. energy throwers can only ever be energy throwers. Around the age of 19 ish, sorcerers experience something called the surge, after which, you’re locked into your chosen discipline of magic forever. So, an elemental can only ever do elemental magic for the rest of their lives. In rare cases, they can be ‘ambidextrous’ and perform more than one discipline but this is not the norm.
In this magical world, sorcerers age slowly, so they live for several hundred years but they are not immortal. A hundred years or so before the events in these books take place, there was a war that had last centuries, which Skulduggery and a lot of our main characters had fought in. However, not all of them make it though alive, as Skulduggery is tortured, his family murdered in front of him and he is then killed himself. Somehow he is bought back from the dead, as a living skeleton; we don’t learn until quite far into the series how/ why this happened. Skulduggery continues to fight against Malevolent and his army, who are worshippers of dark, cruel Gods called ‘Faceless Ones’. In this world God’s are very real (we meet a few along the way) and the Faceless Ones had been driven from earth into a different dimension years ago, by race of magical people called ‘The Ancients’ (from which Valkyrie’s is directly descended). Malevolent and his followers, intend to bring them back but are stopped by the ‘good guys’ before they are successful.
This all happened before these novels take place but it’s all very important for understanding Skulduggery’s character and, part of what takes place in most of the novels, involves a revival of this war. Skulduggery is a very complicated, slightly dark character but full of humour too and he truly cares for Valkyrie. It is interesting to see how his hundred’s of years of history, most of which is very dark, is explored over the series, during which we see Valkyrie age 13 years (she’s 25 in the latest book).
Final thoughts/ interesting things I enjoyed
Another thing that is really well done is the character development. Not only do we see Valkyrie grow up but we see her figuring things out and making mistakes. All the novels never hesitate to address the trauma that would inevitable occur if you’d helped save the world, fight bad guys, investigate murders and, also, make some pretty huge mistakes (no spoilers but ooof, she does a biggy) from the age of 12. Actually, mental health is handled really well throughout but not in an overtly preachy way, you just see her process stuff with the help of the people who love her.
There’s lot of other little details, like the way the character’s speak that is very well thought out, such as turns of phrase, ways of speaking etc- all the things that are intrinsic to different accents, cultures and nationalities. You don’t always need the narrator specify to know where the person is from.
A conclusion of sorts:
This might have been a mission to get through but at no point did it feel laborious, I just wish I’d had the chance to read these when I was younger, I would have found Valkyrie to be even more of a God-damn icon than I do now as an adult.
I have since been listening to the audio books, which are also the best narrated audio books I’ve ever had. I’m just not ready to let go and the audio books are too good to pass up buying them all on audible too.
So, in conclusion, glowing report from me. Book nerds and YA fantasy lovers- you will enjoy these books immensely.
p.s. make sure you read every book dedication he writes, they are pretty amusing and actually how I found out about this series and why I bought the books.
p.s. p.s. I wrote this a little bit late at night and those names were a STRUGGLE to type over and over…