Skulduggery Pleasant is the debut novel of Irish playwright Derek Landy, published in 2007. It is the first of a planned nine book series. The novel crosses the horror, comedy, mystery and sci-fi genres. The story follows the titular character, an undead wizard and detective, with his partner Stephanie, and numerous magic-wielding allies as they try to prevent an evil sorcerer from unleashing a weapon of terrible power on the world. It won the Red House Children's Book Award. The Second Book: Skulduggery Pleasant 2: Playing With Fire is currently available.
Upon the revelation 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 an old, insignificant-looking brooch left by her uncle to his other brother's wife.
Stephanie and Skulduggery, aided by an immensely strong tailor named Ghastly, an English professional swordswoman, Tanith Low and the world's physically strongest man, Mr Bliss, attempt to prevent the villain Serpine from obtaining the Sceptre. Serpine once served under the evil wizard Mevolent who waged a secret war on the wizard community, trying to take over the world. Skulduggery opposed Mevolent in this war several 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. His hate for Serpine allowed him to return from the grave as a skeleton and complete the war.
Now working as a detective and with Stephanie's help, Skulduggery defeats Serpine, destroying him with the Sceptre to protect Stephanie, breaking the Sceptre's power in the process. At the conclusion of the novel, Skulduggery offers to take Stephanie on as his assistant 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.
There are many similarities to H. P. Lovecraft in the story. The Faceless Ones are obviously inspired by the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos and Lovecraft actually gets a mention by Skulduggery saying that his stories were inspired by myths about the Faceless Ones. Serpine also uses Lovecraft's name as an alias.
Skulduggery was a leader of the defending side during the secret war. After his death, his body was placed on a pike and burned as an example to Mevolent's other enemies. Skulduggery did not move on after his death but stayed on and watched the war progress; to his horror, the tide turned and Mevolent gained advantage. In the book, Skulduggery's past life name has not been mentioned. In the book, it is mentioned that every person alive has three names, one which is secret and is obtained in everybodies sub - conscious, one that is known and if you are a sorcerer can be used against you, and one that sorcerors use to protect themselves.
This prompted Skulduggery to return from the dead. He had been literally reduced to a bag of bones, reassembling himself - an experience he describes as 'painful' - and rejoining the war. The war was finally won after hundreds of years, and Skulduggery struck out on his own, becoming a detective. He says that the head he has at the moment is not his, but was stolen, and the only thing he misses from death was his hair.
Skulduggery, despite his bizarre appearance which he hides with a disguise in public, is something of a dapper gentleman. He has a polite, old-fashioned way of speech, and a velvety-smooth voice which enraptures Stephanie when they first meet. As well as a powerful sorcerer, commanding the four elements, he is particularly enthusiastic about detecting, always sleuthing for clues, much to Stephanie's and Tanith's chagrin. He is also a flamboyant egotist, vocally exalting his own plans and showing off his magical abilities to Stephanie, at one point walking on the ocean's surface after falling from a cliff. He is a clever strategist, usually forming the plan the team uses (when they indeed have a plan) and sharpening his wit on Stephanie's, taking pleasure in his own wisecracks. The two partner's develop a relationship throughout the book.
Skulduggery's suave demeanor hides a desire for revenge. Because he died hating Serpine and his hatred brought him back, it forms part of his existence. At Stephanie's questioning, he describes his true nature as a 'dark, twisted thing'. Conversely, witnessing the murder of his family makes him sensitive to the loss of others. Although he accepts sacrifice of individuals as part of war, he is highly reluctant to allow this to happen. He protects Stephanie diligently throughout the novel; originally about to arrest Serpine only, he is forced to kill him when he attempts to kill Stephanie.
''Main article Stephanie Edgely
Stephanie is a twelve-year-old girl living in the quiet Irish sea-side 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. Stephanie best understood Gordon when he was alive; 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 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 under-estimate her - her pet hate 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 original sorcerers. She begins to develop her magic skills, manipulating air in a climatic 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; when Skulduggery is captured and the adults put off launching a rescue, she initiates a rescue attempt herself.
According to the novel's magical premise, knowing someone's name gives you 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 true 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, and Skulduggery chooses to call her by Valkyrie.
Main article Nefarian Serpine
The arch-villain, Serpine is an evil magician who once served under the evil wizard Mevolent. He is a Necromancer, a sorcerer with the power to control the dead and possesses immense magical powers that rival or may even surpass those held by Skulduggery. He is a sadist who takes great delight in the pain and suffering of others, especially Skulduggery. A deranged and psychopathic individual, Nefarian is a worshipper of the Faceless Ones, a pantheon of demonic deities who once ruled the world but were banished to another dimension by the Ancients using a powerful sceptre. At first it appears that Serpine seeks the Sceptre to release them but it eventually becomes clear that what he really wants is the Great Book of Names and the Sceptre is merely a stepping stone in his plan to obtain it.
Serpine and Skulduggery are old enemies. Serpine was the one originally responsible for Skulduggery's demise and was also the murderer of his wife and children. Skulduggery would love nothing more than to get revenge on Serpine and he eventually does by using the Sceptre to destroy the Great Book, 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 vaporising Serpine with the Sceptre.
Serpine is highly intelligent and a skilled manipulator who seduced not only Mr Bliss but Sagacious Tome into joining him. He is a fanatic who is believed by many, (Skulduggery included) to be insane and it is never clarified whether or not the Faceless Ones are actually real or merely a myth which Serpine in his insanity believes to be real.
The greatest weapon in Serpine's arsenal is his right hand which some dark power has stripped of all it's flesh and possesses the ability put individuals in great pain, eventually killing them when pointed at them.
Serpine bears many similarities to Sauron of The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. A dark sorcerer who was once a servant of an even greater evil but is now the greatest villain in the world and who seeks a potent magical device to aid him in his quest for domination of the world (in Serpine's case the Sceptre, in Sauron's case the One Ring). In this, Mevolent could be seen to resemble Morgoth and Sagacious Tome could be seen to resemble Saruman.
For minor characters see the List of minor characters in Skulduggery Pleasant
Skulduggery Pleasant has opened to largely positive reviews by critics.
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