Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

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Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: It's funny, it's busy, it's irreverent and the relationship between the two main characters is an especially strong one. Highly recommended for 8s to 13s.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007241613

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Stephanie's Uncle Gordon writes best-selling horror books. He's very good at it and he's made a fortune. But when Uncle Gordon dies and leaves her his fortune, nobody is more surprised than Stephanie. She wasn't expecting anything of the kind. And that's not the only surprise in store for Stephanie. Within days of Uncle Gordon's death, she narrowly escapes an abduction attempt, rescued by a strange figure who had appeared at both Gordon's funeral and at the reading of his will. Skulduggery Pleasant is a detective, but he's not your average sleuth. He's a living skeleton and a sorcerer of tremendous power to boot. It turns out that Gordon's books weren't fiction after all. Living skeletons exist. Sorcerers exist. Vampires exist. And a nasty man called Nefarious Serpine is trying to destroy the world. He needs a key and he thinks Stephanie has it.

And that's our cue for a rollercoaster ride of madness and mayhem.

There's a big ol' buzz going on around Skulduggery Pleasant. As the industry gears up to fill the forthcoming Potter gap, first time novelist Landy has reportedly received a mind-blowing seven figure advance in a three book deal. And Harper Collins have certainly put the word about. My son knew all about crime-busting skeleton and his plucky sidekick long before the book was released. This kind of pre-publication hype always makes my heart sink. A lot of the time the book isn't any good, and even when it is, it's never as good as you'd hoped. I want to read a book with no preconceptions - a pleasant surprise is so much better than a let down.

Thankfully, though, Skulduggery Pleasant is a long way from a let down. It's pacy, it's funny, it's irreverent. The relationship between Stephanie and Skulduggery is tremendously strong, built on genuine affection and mutual respect, but with a humorous badinage going on that's reminiscent of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton or even Doctor Who. In fact, Skulduggery Pleasant reminded me quite a bit of Doctor Who as I read. It's an old-fashioned fight between a pair of mismatched good guys and an evil that wants to take over the world, and while much of it is high camp, the dangers are real. Stephanie is a splendid character - blunt, logical and outspoken, very much like Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching, but also loyal, dogged and determined. Skulduggery is the sophisticated, urbane detective whose repartee is designed to hide the huge hole in his heart.

I prefer fantasies set in the real world. It means we can dispense with all that tiresome and trainspotterish world-building stuff. Children like it too. They like to believe the world is a magical place. They like to daydream about finding some of that magic if they just look hard enough. Skulduggery Pleasant buys wonderfully into that. There are living skeletons, wizards, vampires, nasty aunts and uncles, martial arts experts, swords, guns, spells, perils and adventures. And after all that, there are loving parents to come home to. What more could you want?

The plotting is a little bit loose. The villain isn't really much more than a cardboad cut out. But the humour, the high-spiritedness and the wonderful interaction between the two main characters more than make up for it. We enjoyed Skulduggery Pleasant. Muchly. They're calling it a genre-busting comic horror - I think they have it about right. Roll on volume two!

My thanks to Harper Collins for sending the book.

Children who like their fantasy stories to come with humour attached might also enjoy Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People and those who like more horror than camp will enjoy Darren Shan's Demonata series.

Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant Books in Chronological Order

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Magda said:

I am just the opposite - I like fantasy and s-f for the world-building especially. But that might be one of the reasons why so of them are so excruciatingly long (though it doesn't have to be like that as some of the best show).

Lucy Beadle said:

I have to agree with Magda with this one and go against Jill Murphy's view that readers teen or younger do not enjoy the process of world building. I've just turned 20 and I love the process now as much as I enjoyed it when I was 12,13,14 etc. I think many reviewers forget (if they're older) that we're a different breed of kids from those raised in the 70's and 80's. If we can sink easily into watching lost, heroes, battlestar gallactica remakes, dragon hunters and all the other wacky movies, animes and tv series then the process of 'world building' is a natural process for us.

Thanks so much for the reivew, Derek Landy brings real excitement and adventure in his Skullduggery series and I love it.

Thanks Book Bag :P

Lucy Beadle

Jill replied:

Hi Lucy and thanks for the comment!

Re-reading the review, I think I've been unclear! I meant to say that I personally don't like worldbuilding, which is why I prefer real-world fantasies. I think children, actually, like both. They like real-world fantasies because they can keep on hoping to find some magic themselves one day. But children are also magpies, aren't they? They love collecting stuff and worldbuilding buys right into that. I have a son right here who's had enough worldbuilding fads in books, trading cards, online games and TV shows to have known to make that properly clear! Sorry!

We're completely in agreement about Landy!