I know. The Beatles only had to invade America once, so what does that say about Skulduggery Pleasant making a second incursion? This nine-book middle grade fantasy series by Irish author Derek Landy was published simultaneously in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2007. It was a giant hit in Europe but passed almost unnoticed here in the U.S. where it was ignominiously retired after the third book.
Skuldguggery’s publisher, HarperCollins, is making a second attempt here now, simultaneously re-releasing the first three books in new paperback editions. Is this second invasion merited? The Secret Code* of bookselling demands an answer to that question and so I undertook the process of providing one.
The Secret Code is just that, but I can reveal, in a general way, that we must first establish the singular and then extrapolate that into the universal. Looking at my own records I established the following facts.
1.We had ordered elements of the original series as special orders for school library accounts twice, selling a total of 3 books.
2. We had never actually carried the books in the store.
3. I had not read the books at the time nor had anyone else at DDG.
4. The original covers were pretty good (see above) but the new covers are better (see below)
Applying the secret reasoning in our code I determined that we couldn’t answer our question without reading at least the first book in the series. Having carried out that initial function and then applied the stipulated inductive elements prescribed by the bookselling code I can now make the following report.
The Skulduggery Pleasant series is absolutely delightful. The two lead characters Skulduggery Pleasant, a once-human magician whose consciousness was trapped in a skeleton during an ancient battle, and his training partner, teenager Stephanie Edgley have the sort of great chemistry one finds now and again in the best sort of literary duos, such as Wodehouse’s Bertie and Jeeves.
Apart from their entertaining dialogue, terrific secondary characters and villains with fun names such as Baron Vengous, China Sorrows, and Eachan Meritorious, the series offers a very comfortable sense of belonging. Stephanie, who soon takes on the name Valkyrie Cain, finds in her apprenticeship to Skulduggery a world where she feels a true sense of belonging. She essentially sheds one family for another, leaving a magical reflection of herself to go to school and navigate family dinners while she is off saving the world from the return of perilous ancient gods and malevolent beings of all sorts.
Fantasy readers of all ages will feel the same; they will experience a sense of belonging in the books, which offer humor, excitement, and a lighthearted but deep-rooted familiarity that is only strengthened by the recurring themes and patterns in the books. I say books because after finishing book one I immediately plunged into book two. This second attempt to bring Skuduggery Pleasant to the U.S. is in fact meritorious in every way. Its success is in our hands now. Follow the code.
*As obliquely described by Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy.