Skulduggery Pleasant is special to me, because I grew up reading this series. Heck, I must’ve been about 14 or 15 when I started reading the books. In a great piece of serendipity, the protagonist grew with me as well. Book One featured Valkyrie Cain as a 12-year-old girl entering a world beyond her comprehension. A world of magic. A world of mystery. A world of wonder. With each successive book, Derrick Landy increased her age and developed a more complex character who grew hugely in her understanding of the complexities and nuances of the world.
In this book – the 13th in the series – Valkyrie is now 26. She's a far cry from the starry-eyed 12-year-old who entered this world of talking skeletons and fire-throwing magicians. What I particularly appreciate about phase two of this series is Landy’s bravery to tackle the impact that past events had on Valkyrie’s psyche. This book is one of the best explorations of mental illness that I've ever read.
For instance, there's this device, called a music box. And whenever Valkyrie is listening to it, everything in her head goes still and her self-loathing and anxiety and depression fades away. It's one of the best metaphors for drug abuse that I've read. When analysed like this, it reflects my long-held opinion about how fantasy has real value when it comes to helping readers process difficult things about our reality, by fooling them into thinking they’re experiencing a different one. In fact, the issues explored throughout this book are closely related to the real experiences in our world.
Indeed, a central portion of this book is set in a secondary dimension ravaged by a virus. A global pandemic that has swept the world, turning people into zombies and leading to the destruction of this alternate dimension. I don't know what future-predicting powers Derek Landy had. But it's eerily similar to the COVID-19 crisis unfolding in our own world.
Perhaps more than anything, what I've really enjoyed about these phase two books is the author's willingness to tackle morally complex situations and characters, along with his courage to present our protagonists in a stark and at times damming light. The Skulduggery Pleasant series was never morally simplistic, but Landy has taken things to a new level in this book.
There's one character in particular, starting with ‘S’, who I saw as reprehensible in earlier instalments. However, by the end of this book, I found him to be one of my new favourites. I'm fascinated to see how his story continues.
In a lot of ways, this phase two series has been all about the ramifications and fallout of phase one. This has been a smart choice. The conclusion of the original Skulduggery Pleasant series (The Dying of the Light) was so gigantic and epic in scale that any attempt to trump it would be foolhardy.
Now, that's not to say that there isn't a lot of action in Seasons of War, because it definitely has the biggest set pieces of this new phase two series. But instead of trying to increase the scale of action beyond the original series, Landy instead scales up his focus on the internal lives and conflicts of the characters. For the most part, this works really well. As I said before, the depiction of Valkyrie's internal struggles and difficulties with mental illness are incredible. In a lot of ways, they were more interesting than the external conflicts and plot of this book.
For some other characters, however, I don't think that the internal conflict played out to the same level of perfection. For instance – Omen’s storyline. Omen Darkly is the brother of the chosen one, Augur Darkly. In the previous three books, I felt like a Omen had meaningful arcs that impacted on the story as a whole. In this book, however, I felt that his arc was done just to maintain the structure of how the other books in the series had operated. Likewise, the resolution of his and his brother’s conflict with their nemesis at the end of the book felt rushed and confusing. It took me a few pages to work out what was going on when this was unfolding.
Unfortunately, that comment can be applied to a lot of the book. There is so much fantastic build-up throughout this story. We have characters travelling across an alternate zombie-infested version of medieval Europe, having to make difficult sacrifices and hard choices along the way. However, when they reach their destination and set about waging war against Mevolent, it fell flat. For my money, it was resolved too quickly. Likewise, it didn't feel as satisfying as the climax of the original series. Back in The Dying of the Light, the main characters resolved the primary series conflict in a way that was very satisfying, despite perhaps being presented as a trick or a cheat.
In some ways, Landy attempted to repeat this here. However, for whatever reason, it just didn't land with the same level of effectiveness. For me, it's not that it was copying the same method. It's just that it felt like the promises he had been giving us – regarding Mevolent’s strength and power and cunning – didn't play out in the finale.
Overall, though, this was a fun book. I lost myself within the pages and it was a very welcome escape.
(Speaking of worlds, the world of the Skulduggery Pleasant series is one of my all-time faves. It's consistently enjoyable, striking a great balance of fun and pathos. Plus, there’s just so many potential avenues to explore, even after 13 books.)
Derek says he intends to write two more books before phase two of the series is wrapped up. I'm very excited for these, mainly because I have no idea how they go. Unlike with these initial phase one series – where book seven told you what was going to be happening in books eight and nine – Seasons of War doesn't give many hints as to what the final conflict of phase two will be. I'm hoping this leads to some welcome surprises and reveals along the way and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it concludes the various character arcs.
Overall Ranking: 4.5/5