Book Title: Midnight
Author: Derek Landy
Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #11
Date Started: May 29th 2018
Date Completed: May 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Horror, Mystery
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Four stars
Skulduggery is back once again, but it's not all smiles and rainbows (unless you get the limited edition with bonus content, which I highly recommend because that last page made my year). The second Skulduggery series takes on its dark magical world in quite a different way to its predesscor, and while I love it dearly, it's not quite the same. And it shouldn't have to be; the whole point is that the world has changed after what our heroes went through in the first nine books. I have trust that Derek knows what he's doing (just don't tell him, or we'll never hear the end of it).
I feel like someone needs to set up a line for all of these characters with free hugs at the end, but everyone could use at least a dozen. It's very doom and gloom - and don't get me wrong, Skulduggery has always been dark and not just a little twisted, but there was always hope, there were always laughs and motivation to keep going, just because they can. And those are still there. But the tone is different now. The characters don't so much have that same motivation anymore. It's definitely going back to its horror roots, which isn't a genre I'm as familiar with. But I'm willing to be converted, it just might take a bit longer.
But, I will argue that this shift in tone is both a strength and a weakness. I really like the attitude to violence and its consequences we have these days; it's not just fun to be in battle, it is genuinely hurting people. Is that right, is that fair? They're not so much questions being answered, but ones that the characters are asking of themselves, especially Val. That thoughtfulness is done without criticising its older instances, but instead by shifting our perspectives as Val is. It's very well done, as is the commentary on American politics, immigration and many other things. I'd find myself sitting there nodding, agreeing, even smilling at how nice it is to see some common decency acknowledged for what it is. It's not there for the sake of it, which is how it should be done, but the drawback was that sometimes it felt like it was being commented on more than the story was. Action, commentary, action. The plot isn't so much about solving mysteries anymore, but it gave people clear goals they woudl stride to; Midnight is more about the character overcoming what's being forced in front of them.
As with every Skuldggery review I've ever written, I always like to take a little time to comment on Valkyrie, because she's the beating soul of this story. Each character is just as real and alive as the last, but Val is the rock that gets beaten, molded and stays with us, the audience, as we traverse the story. To say that seeing her hurt and vulnerable after everything she's been through in the original series reduces the power of these books would be ridiculous, because it's what is continuing to make this story so vivid and resonant. She is hurt, she is regretful, but she also tries to be better when she falls into those old habits. Whether it's my personal attachment to her or the character itself, Valkyrie is an even stronger character than she used to be because now she struggles all the more. Yes, she was never fearless exactly, so she was brave. But Val has finally hit that wall that all of us do when we get old enough to really comprehend what mortality is, and what it means for everything around us as well as ourselves. Val's crisis, really, is about what mortality, magic and consequence means to everyone else, and how she can't control that anymore. You can only really do that with a character who you've seen be (comparatively) carefree, and I'm continually impressed at how Derek is managing to evolve my childhood stories without crushing them. This isn't in with the old and out with the new; it's 'this was the old. Now we have to live with it'.
A bit more on the technical side than coming from the heart, but I wouldn't miss Midnight and its sequels for the world. It gets bonus points for Tanith, and minus points for not enough Tanith. (I'll forgive if we get another solo Tanith book - please? I'm begging here.)