Skulduggery Pleasant is not a series for the weak-hearted. It is a dark, hilarious and addictive thrill of a series, and unlike most fantasy novels, none of the female characters ever have to take their clothes off just to be noticed. (Seriously, Fantasy, as a genre you need to stop it with the pointlessly naked ladies.)
In fact, it is a dual protagonist series, starring the eponymous wisecracking skeleton wrought from black magic and iron will, and a young girl named Valkyrie Cain who grows increasingly and impressively powerful. She owns her power and her gifts, never apologising for being strong and resourceful, and is given full reign throughout nine books to explore herself not only as a sorcerer, but as a woman shouldered with saving the world. Throughout the series, we see many clever, capable and funny women, some of immense power and strength. Some are good, and some are very, very bad, and it makes for a great change to see women on both sides of the moral fence rather than standing off to the side cheering on the manly men with the swords.
Basically, if the Harry Potter series was better written and Hermione was the lead, rather than second-fiddle to a deeply annoying and undeserving lead character, it might almost be as good as Skulduggery Pleasant. Might. Could have used more fine tailoring as well.
In the newest and final book The Dying of the Light, the big, bad villain the series has been building up to over a couple thousand pages is on the rampage, having stolen Valkyrie’s body and using it to plan the destruction of the world, as well as whichever planets are nearby. We see the extent of truly unfettered power (the scenes in which Darquesse explores her newfound power of rearranging things at the subatomic level are gratifyingly horrifying) and the novel constantly twists and turns to the point I honestly expected one of those “EVERYBODY DIES” endings. So many characters make it back in time for the last novel – Scapegrace the Zombie King, Doctor Nye, Tanith Low, The Dead Men, the Remnants and China Sorrows – that this feels like a good send-off for the series. I have loved it since I accidentally came across the first one two years ago and read the first four in one delirious weekend. I adore Skulduggery for his wit and his compassion and his refusal to let his past ruin him forever. I will miss Valkyrie and China and Scapegrace, but it is grand to see a series come to a graceful and timely close, rather than dragging on like static at the end of a forgotten vinyl.
I can’t say much more about The Dying of the Light without spoiling it, but overall, this book was worth the year-long wait. It is packed with action, just the right amount of pathos without being sentimental, and within the greater battle between good and evil, it takes time to ask smaller, quieter questions. It is far more than a young adult fantasy series (ugh I hate that term) – it is a detective novel, it is a thriller, and a horror. Skulduggery Pleasant is a weighty and refreshing contribution to a genre that is in desperate need of fresh air and great one-liners.