I like fiction for teen readers, probably because it is easy to read but fundamentally, because it is something that I can share with my eldest. We discuss plot and favourite characters and it is nice to have a common interest – he’s not really into crafts. The series of books by Derek Landy following the adventures of Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain are just such books and Death Bringer is book 6 in the series and the one that we have both most recently read.
Looking at the picture of the book cover above will tell you much about this series with its vivid renditions of magical looking beings and fire balls coming out of hands, etc. But just to clarify, here is a little background.
Skulduggery Pleasant is a skeleton detective, in that he is literally a skeleton who detects, and works alongside Valkyrie Cain as the agents of “The Sanctuary”, the headquarters for the magical epicentre that is Ireland. Set around and sometimes in Dublin and the fictional towns of Haggard and Roarhaven, Skulduggery and Valkyrie are regularly having to save the world from the ambition of some dodgy evil sorcerer type intent on destruction, death, desolation – you know the sort.
The book itself
In Death Bringer, you won’t be surprised to learn that there is someone intent on wreaking destruction on the world as we know it and that they need to be stopped. This time, hence the title, it is the Death Bringer who is in the unlikely form of a young blonde teenager called Melancholia, shaped by her mentor Vandameer Craven into becoming the saviour of the Necromancers, a group of sorcerers who command the shadows of the dead. They are keen for something called the Passage to be created and have been working towards this goal for many years, waiting for the right person to turn up and do the business. This was previously thought to be Valkyrie herself, who had been trained by another necromancer called Solomon Wreath but before this could be decided, Melancholia rose into the position with demonstrations of her power. With me so far?
Once Skulduggery and Valkyrie realise what the Passage involves and also how intent Melancholia is on killing them both, they do what they always do – go for the bad guy to restore the equilibrium until the next one comes along, which is inevitable as there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of magically power-hungry bad people.
This time, things are a little more complicated though as Lord Vile, an old enemy of Skulduggery’s, has made a reappearance, probably because of the rise of the Death Bringer but he is an additional formidable foe who will also need to be thwarted in some way.
And then, as if that wasn’t enough, there is the ever present threat of people, like Eliza Scorn who would want to return The Faceless Ones to our world. These gods of darkness inhabit another world at the moment but their devoted disciples are keen to reunite them with ours and believe me, this would not be a good idea for anyone concerned including the disciples themselves. Skulduggery knows this first (bony) hand, having been transported to their world through a portal in a previous book (Book 3 – The Faceless Ones) and having had to share an existence with them which was one of perpetual torture and torment.
Valkyrie also has problems in her personal life to navigate. Firstly, she has a new baby sister, Alice who she wants to spend time with but this is very difficult when magical mayhem kicks off. Secondly, she has two boys on the go. Actually, only one is a boy, a teleporter called Fletcher Renn who is steady and reliable, even if he is obsessed with his hair. The other, Caelan is an hundred year old vampire who is extremely intense in his pursuit of Valkyrie and, in addition, could savage her at any minute as that is what vampires do instinctively, even if they are madly in love with you.
Most importantly, she also discovers something about Skulduggery which shocks her to her very core and may cause an unnavigable rift between them.
Witty dialogue and lively characters
What makes Landy’s books stand out for me is that they are funny. The dialogue between characters is usually light with a soupçon of sarcasm, especially the exchanges between Skulduggery and Valkyrie.
His characters vary: you have the incapable like Vaurien Scapegrace, who fancies himself the best killer the world has ever known but is pathetic, even when he is the Zombie King (self-proclaimed title) with his sidekick, Thrasher, formerly Gerald; you have the laidback in the form of Finbar the tattooist who is also a Sensitive, a magical psychic and is one of my all time favourite characters in the books with his laconic way of talking and the way he calls Skulduggery “Skull man”; you have the ambiguous in the form of China Sorrows, who seems to be on the side of good but has a past that is linked to The Faceless Ones – it is also difficult to trust someone who has the power to make everyone fall in love with her when they see her.
Even some of the baddies are entertaining like Billy Ray Sanguine, the eyeless Texan who can push himself through the earth and regularly tries to kill Valkyrie – they all have a wit and personality that is distinctive.
I also like Landy’s choice of names which are indicative of the character to an extent and are unique. One of my favourites is Ghastly Bespoke who has an incredibly scarred face and physique and his occupation is as a tailor of fine magical clothing to fit the wearer perfectly. His name says it all! Not to detract from his importance, it should be mentioned that he is a powerful sorcerer as well and not just in the making of clothes.
Landy creates an abundance of characters, some who stay, some who go and in this, it is a bit like Game of Thrones: just as you are getting used to having a character that you like and have warmed to, they end up dead or altered or frozen or something else that is bad.
But he is always introducing new people and this makes each book in the series fresh.
With more books left to read in the series, check back here to see subsequent reviews of the Skulduggery Pleasant series.