Book: Skulduggery Pleasant (Book 1)
Author: Derek Landy
Age Range: 8-12
HarperCollins is in the process of reintroducing Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant series here in the US, after the books did much better in Ireland and the UK. As outlined in a May Publisher's Weekly article, they have issued paperbacks of the first three books, which were published earlier in the US, and will be publishing books four to six in the US for the first time this month. I agreed to take a look at the first book. I read it in a single sitting. I do think that the time is right this time, and that the series is going to be a hit.
Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 1, begins when a horror author named Gordon Edgley dies unexpectedly. Gordon leaves his home and most of his property to his favorite niece, Stephanie. Left alone at Gordon's house through circumstance, Stephanie, who has always craved adventure, finds herself under attack and drawn into an unexpected world of magic. She is aided by, and becomes something of a sidekick to, Skulduggery Pleasant, a walking, talking skeleton. Together with a cast of not-necessarily trustworthy allies, Stephanie and Skulduggery fight to save the world.
Though full of dangerous escapes, epic battles, and magical books and artifacts, what I liked most about Skulduggery Pleasant was Landy's lightly ironic voice. The byplay between Stephanie and Skulduggery, and particularly Skulduggery's occasionally world-weary remarks, made the pages fly by. There is a bit of Irish syntax here and there (the hood of the car is a "bonnet", etc.), but nothing that will be difficult for anyone who has read the Harry Potter books.
Here are a couple of snippets, chosen from early in the books, so as to avoid spoilers. First, a paragraph that gives you a feel for Stephanie:
"There was an extra door in the living room, a door disguised as a bookcase, and when she was younger Stephanie liked to think that no one else knew about this door, not even Gordon himself. It was a secret passageway, like in the stories she'd read and she's make up adventures about haunted houses and smuggled treasure. This secret passageway would always be her escape route, and the imaginary villains in these adventures would be dumfounded by her sudden and mysterious disappearance. But now this door, this secret passageway, stood open, and there was a steady stream of people through it, and she was saddened that this little piece of magic had been taken from her." (Page 3)
She's a great character, stubborn, outside of the mainstream, and a creative problem-solver. And here's Skulduggery:
"Skulduggery put his gloved hands in his pockets and cocked his head. He had no eyeballs so it was hard to tell if he was looking at her or not. "You know, I met your uncle under similar circumstances. Well, kind of similar. But he was drunk. And we were in a bar. And he had vomited on my shoes. So I suppose the actual circumstances aren't overly similar, but both events include a meeting, so... My point is, he was having some trouble and I was there to lend a hand, and we become good friends after that. Good, good friends."" (Page 43)
Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 1, carries a blurb from Rick Riordan, and this is no coincidence. This would make an excellent next series for fans of the the Percy Jackson books. Skulduggery and Stephanie are an unusual pair of heroes, but one that kids will find easy to root for. Highly recommended, and well worth adding to elementary and middle school library collections.
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 1, 2018 (reprint edition, original copyright 2007)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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