The Skeleton Detective’s 11th instalment is dark, wickedly funny, and just a taste of the heartache that’s to come.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Ressurection.
I loved getting to hang out with the heroes of my childhood, loved seeing their lives through a gritter, less fantastic lens. I loved that Derek adjusted the tone of the series to cater for both a grown-up readership and a darker world in general, handling everything from trauma to sexuality in a nuanced and more realistic way.
Ressurection was the perfect introduction to the world that Phase 2 took place in, a world with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia off. However, it was also kind of… sombre.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand and respect why. A plot wherein the main threads include mental illness and magical supremacy hardly makes for a laugh-a-minute situation. Also, the 10th book in the series found Valkyrie utterly broken, unable to even comprehend recovery up until the last few pages. Going through what she went through would hardly put one in the mood for quips.
With that said, returning to the world of my childhood and finding it so utterly devoid of charm was uncomfortable. It felt like all the windows had been opened at once, there wasn’t even a shred of warmth to protect the readers from the chill of this new world. What had made the previous books such a joy to read had been the ability to banter through even the most traumatic of circumstances, even if we truly didn’t know who Landy would let come out of the other side – that heart felt like it had been cruelly ripped away.
And that’s fine! It was necessary to build the world we will be inhabiting for the next few books. However, opening Midnight to find Valkyrie and Skulduggery bickering on the first few pages, it genuinely felt like coming home.
That’s not to say that Midnight is a happy book. The final third is an exercise in tension and, without spoiling anything, the last few pages are the gut-punching kind of heartbreaking that simultaneously feel out of nowhere and built too all along. And yet, throughout the sadness and panic and growing sense of impending doom, the book is overflowing with fun.
I think it has something to do with the format, which returns to the kind of classic mystery that we haven’t seen for quite a few books now. Elements at the bigger picture are hinted at, dropped in and whisked away just as quickly, but for the most part we are back where we feel the most comfortable: driving around in the Bentley, looking for clues, finding answers with either fists or wit or both.
Not only that, but Skulduggery and Valkyrie’s bond makes up the core of the book. Their friendship, which has matured to the point of them feeling like true equals, is a joy to look in on. Yes, the world is going to hell and yes, the stakes are once again raised to impossible levels – but the dynamic duo feel like they’ve got their flare back.
As for our pass-the-torch characters, I’ll admit to being resentful of them in Resurrection. They felt like imposters, a reminder that I was now in my twenties and so was Valkyrie – forcing Landy to introduce a new set of audience surrogates to engage the actual target audience – younger readers than me.
Yet in Midnight, they seem to have found their feet. Omen, who I found bumbling and unsympathetic in the first book, has gained a kind of depth, and through his eyes, the world he experiences has too. I mean, the magic school he attends still feels like a low-rent Hogwarts, and to me, it probably always will, but now it feels like a low-rent Hogwarts that I believe could exist in that world.
We even get glimpses at old characters who seem to be veering closer and closer to the cynical darkness that blurs the edges of this world, but even this development seems more earned this time around. I’ll never be fully comfortable with seeing China and Tanith, my two most formative girl-crushes, abandon the principles they once held so close – but I have faith that Derek knows exactly what he’s doing.
After-all, he brought the wise-cracking skeleton detective back, put him in the driver’s seat, and created a book with maybe less magic than ever… that seemed to feel the most magical of all.