5 out of 5 stars.
Written by Irish author and playwright, Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant was first published back in 2007 and has become a staple among children’s literature since that point. This novel was the debut of Derek Landy and has spawned countless novellas as well as eight further stories in the series. It follows twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgley, a quirky and almost macabre child who meets the titular character at the wake of her recently deceased uncle. After inheriting her uncle’s mansion, Stephanie soon discovers Skulduggery to be an undead, skeletal sorcerer/detective, her uncle to have actually been murdered, and that he had been involved in many magical misadventures alongside Skulduggery. They are soon in a race against time to stop the forces of evil from collecting the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and save the world.
Though I said that this is a children’s novel, it doesn’t exclude other age groups from reading it also as it is a fantastically well balanced novel that even the eldest of readers can sink their teeth into.
Despite the cliched nature of the novel, I really enjoyed reading it and got through it very quickly. It’s a testament to Landy’s skill as an author that I was able to get so immersed in the story that I didn’t want to put it down. For some sections of the book, the story is driven purely by dialogue which some people may not find very entertaining. But it flows really well. Each sentence flows like an actual conversation should – not to mention that the interactions between Stephanie and Skulduggery are hilarious.
To begin with, the concept of a magical war is always intriguing to me. The whole way that magic was dealt with in the novel was fresh and well thought through. Most of the time, the way that magic is explained in stories is that it isn’t. It’s just a phenomena that some people can do and some people can’t. There are tools that help people be able to channel the magic, like a wand for instance, but there is never any real explanation as to why these things are happening. Skulduggery Pleasant is the first story that I have come across that has given some remote form of detail as to how magic works or why someone is able to use it compared to another.
It’s description as two forms was exciting. The type that is seen most often in the novel – because it is the magic of choice of Skulduggery – is Elemental magic. I found the whole concept of Elemental magic so fascinating and how Landy made it so simple was amazing. It made sense. There was a reason to Elemental magic. Bending the forces of nature to your will, feeling a force that helps to move air around the body to allow flight or to move an object, using the moisture in the air to help dry someone quickly, creating fire as a weapon and only ever using earth in a dire emergency. It made the most sense in any supernatural/magical story I’ve read so far.
But that doesn’t exclude the second type of magic, of course. Well, one part of it. The rest seemed like standard throw-ins. The other type was described as Adept which means abilities like Teleportation, Sensitivity (Seers), and the most interesting Necromancy. Overall, I never had any questions that needed answering when it came to magic and that is how a story should be – the right amount of information given at the right time to keep the reader engaged and involved.
The overall writing style of the story was nice. It wasn’t anything ground breaking or spectacularly poetic, but it worked. It was a simple style in third person which focused on Stephanie for the majority of the novel. There were times when the perspective flipped to another character but those moments were made apparent but the style of the text. Moments away from Stephanie were written in italics and it was never unclear what was going on. It was easy to figure out who the focus had shifted to, whether they were likable or not, and when in the timeline this event was happening.
Generally, I thought that the plot was funny, well paced and action packed. There were never any dull moments. Even at times where Stephanie was just wandering around with her mother or seeing her horrible cousins, nothing felt as though I wanted to skip it. It all added to the feel of the plot. The characters themselves were ingenious and quite possibly my favourites to have read about all year. Stephanie was an exceptionally well-written female character. She’s sad and confused, smart and sensible and tough, all balanced with a slight lack of common sense, vulnerability and sense of humour. She’s not a cookie-cutter model of what a twelve year old girl should be like. I’d go as far to say she’s not that for any female character is expected to be like. I look forward to seeing how she develops throughout the series because Landy has made an excellent start with her at this point.
Stephanie isn’t the only well balanced female character either. All of the ladies in this novel are fantastic and I give props to Landy for pulling off creating characters like that.
And of course, Skulduggery himself was a joy to read about. He was such a complex character though you can’t help but care for him within a few chapters. As parts of his story are slowly revealed, you get to learn more about what makes him tick, why he is a walking, talking skeleton and see his personality kick in. The voice Landy created for him was entertaining throughout. Personally, he reminded me of David Tennant’s incarnation of the Doctor from Doctor Who. Self-assured but easily made the target of jokes.
The pacing and detail was incredible. Landy didn’t hold back and created a tense and heart-racing story that packed punches at all the right moments. Torture was included but not too graphically for the younger readers but it all just added up to an incredible opening novel which I highly recommend.