I read Landy’s The Faceless Ones – the third in the Skulduggery Pleasant series – and, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it: a smart and sassy heroine; an enigmatic and intriguing (possibly anti-) hero; a wide range of engaging characters. So I have taken the fact that the current seventh book, The Kingdom Of The Wicked is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2013 to catch up on the series starting with this, number one.
And it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
Skulduggery, the eponymous skeletal hero, is still an engaging character. His own bemusement at his own existence is wonderful.
But the darkness that other characters refer to – his obsession, the hatred that pulled him back from death to inhabit (most of) his old bones, the tragedy that lead to his death – was never felt. At least not by me. And I know that Landy is writing for a relatively young audience but there is the occasional gruesome scene and he doesn’t shy away from impalements, death and torture. I wanted to feel with this book what I vaguely recall feeling with the third: that Skulduggery Pleasant was dark and dangerous.
I also had peeves with Stephanie Edgely as a character here: she is plucky and independent and thats all great … but she becomes too authoritative too quickly, too absorbed into and claiming understanding and knowledge of a world that heretofore she had not known existed. Seriously, Stephanie, you think the Sceptre of The Ancients exists? You’re 12, you’ve known of magic for a weekend, I’m not impressed. You came across as … I’m sorry to say … a bit of a brat.
As for the plot, if you’ve seen it read Harry Potter, you’re in familiar territory. There is a secret society of magic; the mundane world knows nothing of it; an ancient war between good and evil was won by good; evil is making a play back for power; an innocent girl with a hitherto unknown background in magic is drawn into the magical society and saves the world.
There is an ancient magical race known as – somewhat predictably – The Ancients who worshipped The Faceless Ones as gods but who turned against them and created the ultimate weapon, the Sceptre of the Ancients, to destroy or banish them. And once successful, they turned on each other and destroyed the entire race. In the war, the dark side were intent on bringing the Faceless Ones back to earth and allowing them to destroy humanity.
Landy does have fun with his characters names: Nefarian Serpine (nefarious, serpentine), Mevolent (malevolent) and the elders Eachan Meritorious and Sagacious Tome. Even Edgley: the family who live on the edge of the mundane and magical worlds.
In many ways the minor characters are more evocative and intriguing than the main ones: China Sorrows with whom everyone falls in love; the swordswoman Tanith Low who alternates between heartless savage killing and childlike gigging with Stephanie. Apparently Landy’s first draft killed her off but she was saved by his editors who thought the scene too sad. In exchange, Landy was permitted to torture her in each book. What does that say about our society? The character of Gordon Edgley, like Marley dead before the book begins, seems a thinly veiled portrait of Landy himself: a writer who would
systematically subject his hero to brutal punishment in a bid to strip away all his arrogance and certainty so that by the end he was humbled and had learned a great lesson. And then Gordon killed him off usually in the most undignified way possible. Stephanie could almost hear Gordon laughing with malicious glee as she read.
There is certainly enough here to warrant further reading of the series. It is certainly a good, fun and very well-paced book populated by likeable engaging characters. In comparison with other Carnegie award winners – the closest comparison would be Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness as the final book in a trilogy – there needs to be a big shift up in gears for The Kingdom of The Wicked to make the Carnegie Shortlist.