The worst words you can hear

Melodramatic title, I know. And perhaps more than a little bit subjective. But true in this case. Here’s the story:

I was working on my Pegasus canvas today (amidst way too much commentary from coworkers) and was trying to open a gallon bottle of Elmer’s Glue. No dice. “Julie” tried and two other clerks tried as well. Still no dice. So I went upstairs in search of other worthy candidates and/or a pair of pliers or some other useful tool. Didn’t find the tool, but “Ralph” and “GC” were hanging out. So I pawned the problem off on them as is my way. Anyway, GC got it open.

And that was the end of the story for me. I wasn’t going to revisit the scene in a blog post or anything. At least, not until I thanked GC and reclaimed the bottle.

“This is something else you can put on your blog.”

Those are the worst words you (meaning me) can hear. And those are the words GC said as I was walking away. After doing a double-take, I went back to GC’s desk.

“How do you know about my blog?”

GC shrugged me off without actually shrugging. “People talk about it. Everyone discusses each other’s blogs. And web 2.0.”

“Oh-kay,” I said doubtfully before walking away.

Anyway, I’ve got a couple of options for the 3D part of my canvas. I liked one option. The entire rest of the library (almost literally) liked a different option. Ralph helped me reach this conclusion after explaining my plan to GC who shot it down and then relaying their exchange to me. Then, adding insult to injury, Ralph called GC and had him come down to the children’s room to “consult” further. The last straw was when my supervisor came, looked at the canvas and could only say, “Oh.”

I bolted. I admit it. I went out and bought the materials to make all of the things I am dubious about. The wing I think might fall off (I don’t care if it is Liquid Nails glue). The cotton balls for the clouds that are going to get dusty and weird. Got them all. Peer pressure to the nth level. Except everyone who pressured me was older (except for “Sam” who is younger . . . ).

Having regained my composure, I decided to make further inquiries about my newfound lack of anonymity. How long did he really know about it? Anyone’s guess. Personally, I suspect he learned about it around when I started writing about his never asking “how are you” and it driving me crazy and the time when I started commenting suspiciously that he was asking how I was. It conveniently all came out right after I posted suspicions that he was reading posts here.

My only satisfaction is this: He still has no idea what GC stands for. And yes, I am going to stubbornly cling to my nickname/aliases.

Skulduggery Pleasant: A Modern Fantasy for Modern Readers

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek LandySkulduggery Pleasant is a sharp dresser, a detective, a wizard, and, in addition to being rather charming, he has “a voice so smooth, it could have been made of velvet.” The only thing that keeps Skulduggery from being the perfect man is that he’s not exactly a man: he’s a living skeleton. He is also the main character in Derek Landy’s debut novel, Skulduggery Pleasant (2007).

Find it on Bookshop.

Despite sharing his name, the novel does not actually start with Skulduggery. It starts with Stephanie Edgley and the death of her favorite uncle, Gordon. Stephanie was Gordon’s favorite niece which is why, at the age of twelve, she is named sole benefactor of his significant estate. That’s when the trouble really starts and everything changes for Stephanie.

Enter Skulduggery, magic and Nefarian Serpine, one of the best villains seen in recent fantasy novels. Stephanie refuses, much to Skulduggery’s dismay, to stay out of the dangerous world of magic and becomes an apprentice of sorts as the two investigate Gordon’s death and its connection to an old (literally ancient) foe trying to tip the balance toward evil. For good.

This story might sound vaguely similar to other fantasy/action plots. But it’s not. Landy borrows some elements from other popular children’s fantasies, perhaps most obviously from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” trilogy.

Like Le Guin’s keystone work in the genre (A Wizard of Earthsea first published in 1968), Landy focuses on what he describes in the novel as “the quieter course” for magic: Elemental magic. What that means, basically, is the wizards here don’t use wands and Latin spells. Instead, the power comes from the air, fire, water and earth–but earth magic is defensive and “purely for use as a last resort.”

The power of naming also plays an important factor here, much in the same way it did in A Wizard of Earthsea (and even perhaps in The Namesake although the power there was much more figurative to say the least). Everyone has three names. The one they are born with, the one they are given, and the one that they take. If you know a person’s true name (the one they are born with) you can control them absolutely. But there’s no need to worry because a taken name seals the given name, protecting it. True names need stronger protection, a fact that becomes more important as the story progresses.

This truly modern fantasy is set in contemporary Ireland, which is where Landy lives. The narrative is modern and has a lot of verve. So much so, in fact, that some reviewers have said Skulduggery Pleasant reads more like a movie screenplay than a novel. This connection makes sense. Landy wrote the screenplays for two Irish horror films (Dead Bodies and Boy Eats Girl) before writing Skulduggery Pleasant.

The story here does have a cinematic scope. Some novels are cerebral–relying heavily on what happens in the characters’ heads to drive the story along. This is not one of those novels. It doesn’t have to be. Landy’s descriptions are concrete and the plot straightforward, both of which lend themselves to film adaptation. The novel presents readers with all the information they need through the author’s narration.

Landy’s novel is mostly compared to movie scripts because of his dialogue. When the characters talk they are witty. Oftentimes they don’t really talk, they banter. Take for example, this exchange between Stephanie and Skulduggery:

“Mr. Pleasant, you’re a skeleton.”
“Ah yes, back to the crux of the thing. Yes. I am, as you say, a skeleton. I have been one for a few years now.”
“Am I going mad?”
“I hope not.”
“So you’re real? You actually exist?”
“You mean you’re not sure if you exist or not?”
“I’m fairly certain. I mean, I could be wrong. I could be some ghastly hallucination, a figment of my imagination.”
“You might be a figment of your own imagination?”
“Stranger things have happened. And do, with alarming regularity.”

This exchange is illustrative of the novel as a whole. The dialogue and, to some extent, the prose have a snap that is more often associated with a movie or a television show than with a book. I must admit that distinction never made sense to me. A book’s merit has more to do with good narrative and engaging characters than whether or not it sounds like a “real” book and this book has both.

All in all, the theatricality of Skulduggery Pleasant will probably prove to be an asset since, according to RTE Entertainment, Warner Brothers bought the movie rights for the entire series (a proposed total of nine books) in 2007. Book two in the series Playing With Fire will be released in May of this year.

Possible Pairings: The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris, Jackaby by William Ritter, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud