Some books you just know will be fun to read. It can be the title, the cover, the plot description . . . something that just makes your fingers itch to crack the cover. This is one of those books. His name is Skulduggery Pleasant. He's a snazzy dresser with a cool car. He's an elemental master who never has to find trouble, because it finds him. He's also a walking, talking skeleton. But that hasn't stopped him from trying to save the world. Derek Landy makes his debut in children's fiction with this delightfully action-packed romp about a skeleton detective and his strong-minded 12 year old sidekick.
The book opens with twelve-year old Stephanie Edgley receiving an inheritance from her recently deceased uncle. That inheritance includes, among other things, a mansion, money and entry into a deadly and fascinating world of magic and mayhem. Like, Harry Potter, Stephanie's about to discover there's a secret society of sorcerers and mages that the ordinary world doesn't know about. Unlike Harry Potter, she's a stubborn, smart-talking gal who won't take `no' for an answer, even when she's in mortal danger. The forces of evil are looking for a key that her uncle had, and they think she has it. They'll do whatever it takes to get it. Skulduggery and Stephanie have their hands full trying to stop them, because if they find what they're looking for, it just may be the end of the world. It's a high action adventure that readers will tear through to find out what happens, enjoying the witty dialog and colorful characters along the way. Derek Landy's first book for children is enjoyable, entertaining and vivid. In fact, it would likely make a good movie or television series without too much effort.
It's no surprise that Mr. Landy's past work includes screenplay writing--this story springs off the page in full 3-D action and thrills. However while the plot charges forward, the narrative doesn't offer much in the way of internal character thought or character depth. We really know very little about our main protagonist, Stephanie, other than that she despises school, is quick with a retort and doesn't flinch when the chips are down. While she's certainly fun to read about, her wit and flagrant disregard for rules a change from the usual, she doesn't really reveal much about herself and what makes her tick. Also, Stephanie's age is problematic. At times, she acts much more mature than a twelve year old would be expected to--she seems more like she's fourteen or fifteen. At other times, her lack of knowledge about Skulduggery's chosen words makes her seem younger than twelve. The story, while told in a fresh and exciting manner, is not all that new, or surprising: forces of evil want an object that will end the world, forces of good must stop them. Mr. Landry's sorcerous world builds on well-known conventions: complete with name magic, vampires, magical books, tentacled monsters and maniacal violent bad guys. This doesn't make it bad, but it's fairly predictable. And I can't quite forgive the author for naming the villains `Serpine' and `Mavolent'. It makes my teeth hurt when the baddies are so painfully obvious.
What saves this book from being another clichéd contemporary fantasy for kids is the chemistry between Stephanie and Skulduggery. These two characters are made for one another--trading witticisms and retorts, disrespecting authority and watching each other's backs. Stephanie is a tough heroine who takes a licking and kicks evil in the shins. Skulduggery is a charming hero all the readers can cheer on. This is a fairly violent book with death and lethal threats at every turn for the protagonists. While this is handled well without becoming too dark, it may be a bit frightening for sensitive younger readers. For a quick read and a taste of action-adventure, this isn't a bad choice at all. There's no doubt that this is only the first story in a series of adventures featuring our cast of characters. With any luck, the author will explore his character in more depth while maintaining the excitement of this first book.
For readers 9-14 looking for some quick-moving enjoyable contemporary fantasy with a gothic twist, this will likely be just the thing. Readers who enjoy this book may also want to check out "Gregor the Overlander" by Suzanne Collins and "Changeling" by Delia Sherman.
Happy Reading! ^_^ Shanshad