Voice Retrospects: Skulduggery Pleasant

Inventive, charismatic, and wonderfully written, the Skulduggery Pleasant series is the pinnacle of YA fiction.

Voice Retrospects: Skulduggery Pleasant

Derek Landy (the author of Skulduggery Pleasant) is hilarious. I went to a talk of his at the Edinburgh Book Festival and he had the audience in stitches from start to finish. He seemed endearingly eccentric, but also incredibly invested in his writing. It was so easy to see and understand how this guy can create such imaginative worlds and populate them with witty characters and explosive plotlines. 

But Skulduggery Pleasant isn't just funny. Humour is a big part of its charm, but comedy is always used only to enhance the narrative, and rarely takes centre stage unless it's for certain side characters like Vaurien Scapegrace. Mostly the series tells dramatic stories with stakes that just keep getting higher as time goes on. It's a bit episodic, with a classic detective story format, but the ongoing plot is so phenomenally developed that once the final instalments came out, the entire finale felt like it had been building up for years. 

The characters are the best part of the books. There's too many highlights to count. The protagonist is outstanding. Her journey to become a mage is told with intricate conflicts and mind-bending twists, giving her significant character flaws and portraying a realistic progression in power; for most of the series she isn't really a combative match for any of the major villains, and only after intense training does she become a genuinely formidable threat. Valkyrie Cain is a perfect YA protagonist. She's easy to root for because of her tenacity and relatable motivations, and she's also surprisingly realistically written. With the complex world of magic and monsters that Skulduggery Pleasant is written in, it would have been easy for ordinary concerns and pressures put on a teenage girl to fall by the wayside, but struggles with her parents, studies, autonomy, and relationships both friendly and romantic, are addressed throughout. 

The titular character, Skulduggery Pleasant, is an absolute gem. There are many 'mysterious, broody, fedora-man' archetypes out there, but Pleasant is one of the few that justifies the intrigue and mystique surrounding them. He's revered by the protagonist at first and often seems to be the only character in the room that knows what's going on. This characterisation ran the risk of making him seem like an invincible, embarrassingly overpowered self-insert that never makes mistakes but boy could that not be more wrong. This guy makes mistakes, big ones. There's a reason Valkyrie is the hero of the story and not him. Their dynamic is endlessly entertaining. As time goes on, Cain becomes something of a moral compass for the charming detective, and as a mentor, Pleasant prepares her for the brutal world she decided to enter. Their interactions are the heart and soul of the series. 

Then you get the supporting cast of allies and enemies. No-one is wasted, so many of them have proper arcs and fulfilling moments spanning multiple books, it's amazing that Landy managed to balance them all. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that every recurring character in the series is at least one reader's favourite, but I could never choose one above the others (except maybe Scapegrace).

Despite being marketed as solely a YA series, I'd heartily recommend anyone of any age to check it out. It tells a thrilling story with an unbelievable amount of imagination. The fact that it hasn't received a critically acclaimed movie franchise is criminal, but it really doesn't need one, Skulduggery Pleasant is more than enough on its own. 

Header Image Credit: Skulduggery Pleasant HarperCollins Publishers UK


Hamish Gray

Hamish Gray Kickstart

Hamish Gray is a recent English Literature and Creative Writing graduate with a deep passion for anything that grabs him, be it literature, film, video games or world culture. He is always looking to learn something new and tackles each experience with the unshakeable belief that good art can come from anywhere.

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