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Book Review #1 – Skulduggery Pleasant

My fourth review, this time, is for the book, Skulduggery Pleasant written By Derek Landy (this is my first ever book review by the way).  Skulduggery Pleasant is the debut novel for the Irish playwright, Derek Landy, published in 2007; it is the first instalment of a series of books following the adventures of a dead detective/magician and his teenage sidekick.

Though predominantly marketed for a younger audience – the book is rated 9+ on the cover – I was thoroughly engrossed by it and enjoyed it very much.  I’m not one of those snobs who think children’s books should specifically be read only by children.  In my opinion, if the writing is good, why can’t the book be enjoyed by an adult as well?  And to put things bluntly, with Skulduggery Pleasant, the writing is good!

For quite some time whenever I was in the book shop Skulduggery Pleasant would catch my eye and intrigue me.  I have wanted to read the book for a while now out of sheer curiosity, and in all honesty, how could I not want to read a book titled Skulduggery Pleasant!  I eventually picked up a copy, after putting it off for so long, and boy was I glad I did pick it up.

You start off by meeting a girl named Stephanie Edgley, whose uncle – Gordon Edgley, famed horror novelist – has passed away.  Stephanie was rather close to her uncle and feels his passing more so than anyone else in her family, and their close relationship becomes more prominent when she inherits his entire estate at the tender age of 13.  Much to the displeasure of certain members of her family.  While spending a night alone at her deceased uncle’s house, Stephanie is attacked by an imposing man who breaks into the house and threatens to kill Stephanie unless she tells him where the key is.  Fortunately, Stephanie is rescued by her late uncle’s friend, Skulduggery Pleasant, who bursts in on the scene and reveals himself as a wizard and a living skeleton detective.  From then on, Stephanie is emerged into the magical world and discovering that she too has powers while joining Skulduggery on his adventure.  Stephanie also discovers that her uncle may not have died of natural causes while trying to stop an evil wizard named Serpine from resurrecting evil gods.

The great thing about this book is that Derek Landy doesn’t drag out the obvious. For example: you’ll pick up a book with a cryptic title leading one to believe this book is about werewolves, you’ll look at the front cover and see a huge werewolf howling at the moon, and then you’ll read the synopsis at the back and it will talk about how the book is about a werewolf.  You’ll then start to read the book that is heavily suggested it is about werewolves and you will meet a mysterious character who the hero or heroine of the book has to discover their dark secret – even though it is blindingly obvious they are a werewolf – but you still have to read 13 chapters of mystery to confirm a fact you already knew!  Thankfully, Derek Landy does none of this; by chapter three it is revealed that Skulduggery is a detective skeleton (why else would you have a skeleton on the front cover dressed as a detective?) and we’re able to proceed with the rest of the story.

And what a story it is.  I was gripped from the very beginning; and when you hear people say they could not put the book down, I literally couldn’t put the book down and read the whole thing in one day.  The story is a good mix of action, adventure, mystery and the supernatural.  There was never a dull moment in the book and it kept its fast pace throughout the entire story, yet it still managed to explain things in a clever way.  The story is well rounded and structured as well as entertaining and kept you guessing, yet also managed to tie up all it’s loose ends as well.

I also found some of the supernatural ideas to be quite fresh and smart.  Such as vampires; in Skulduggery Pleasant they’re vicious beasts that hunger only for blood, instead of being glorified beings that everyone falls in love with!  I also liked the idea of the power of names.  It is explained in the book that everyone has three names, the one you’re born with, the one you’re given and the one you take.  No one knows the name they’re born with, but everyone knows the name they are given by their parents, naturally if people learn your given name or born with name then they can exert power over you and control you; however, if you take a name then you can protect the name you are given with and they will no longer be able to control you should they learn it.  I found this to be quite an interesting idea.

However, don’t go looking for some deep and complicated intellectual meaning buried within the book.  It won’t have you questioning the moral of today’s society, it won’t have you discussing theology and there is no warning of doom such as climate change.  Skulduggery Pleasant is good old fashioned story telling with some clever plot points and twists, and in my mind there is nothing wrong with that when it is done this well.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was the dialogue and the witty banter between Skulduggery and Stephanie; it was funny and highly intelligent with some smart references thrown in here and there.

It was also refreshing to see the character of Stephanie as well.  It’s rare to find a young, female character that is smart and proactive instead of being another damsel in distress.  Yes she makes mistakes, but she is young and still learning about this new world opening up to her and how to control her new powers; however, and least she is trying to improve her abilities so she is not a burden on anyone and at least she is also willing to do something instead of just waiting around to be rescued all the time.  As I said before, Stephanie does make mistakes, but she learns from them and she is also a character that thinks about her situation instead of running in wildly and digging herself into a deeper grave.  For once, we have a character with some semblance of a brain.

Unfortunately, as much as I like Stephanie, I did find that now and then she got on my nerves.  Every so often there would be a line that made it look like Stephanie was self righteous and she was better than other people because she was smarter than them.  I don’t know if this was intentional, but it did irk me when I came across it.

Generally though, the characters were interesting and had depth – even with the slight niggling issue I had with Stephanie.  The only characters I had a real problem with were Stephanie’s aunt Beryl, uncle Fergus and their twin daughters.  The four of them were loathsome and contemptuous characters, what with their greed and wanting all of the inheritance from Gordon Edgley’s estate.  There was no doubt that you weren’t meant to like these characters, and believe me, I didn’t like them.  However, I did find them two dimensional as all they were, was greedy little money grabbers who sulked when they didn’t get what they wanted.  Fortunately, these were only minor characters in the book and you were not plagued with their presence often.

Regardless, the book is superbly written.  I found no plot holes in the story, the characters were well formed, it was interesting from the get go and the grammar and spelling were of a very high quality.  In all fairness, Derek Landy could teach many established and best selling authors a thing or two.  However, there was one thing that Derek Landy did that I found a little annoying.  When writing a short list of descriptive words he would often write it as such: He was big and strong and tough.  I found this format jarring and the words didn’t seem to flow all that well as opposed to writing it like this: He was big, strong and tough.  Maybe it’s just a personal preference of mine, but I did pick up on this grammatical quirk quite a bit.

Overall, the book is excellent and even though it is a children’s book I would be proud to let my future children read it as well as proudly read it from cover to cover myself (once again, or maybe more than once again if I’m honest).  I found very few faults with this book, the only ones being the grammatical specification I mentioned and the slight issues with a few of the characters.  On the whole I enjoyed the book very much and would recommend reading it.