Thursday, 24 May 2012

Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy

Skulduggery PleasantThe first in a series, this is the tale of Skulduggery, a ‘wise-cracking detective, powerful magician, sworn enemy of evil’ (as the blurb on the back of the book states). The twist is that dear Skulduggery is a skeleton.

Actually, I tell a lie. Really, this book is about Stephanie Edgley. As a twelve-year-old girl aching to get out of her small home town, circumstances lead her to a meeting with Skulduggery, during which he saves her life and she discovers not only his status as an undead skeleton, but also that magic exists, and in the most unlikeliest of places too.

Sound a bit odd? Well, yes, but then odder things may happen, especially in this particular world. Stephanie and Skulduggery embark on a detective mission that ends up with them saving the world. Very fortunate for us ignorant mortals. There are lots of good things about this book, the most outstanding one being the constant wit and humorous banter between the two leading characters:

Stephanie: “So you won’t keep anything from me again?”
Skulduggery: “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Stephanie: “Ok... Though you don’t actually have a heart.”
Skulduggery: “I know.”
Stephanie: “ And technically, you’ve already died.”
Skulduggery: “I know that too.”
Stephanie: “Just so we’re clear.” *

Peopled with vampires, monsters and magicians, this is not one for the innocent of heart, but it is a romping good adventure, full of fast-moving fight scenes that wouldn’t be amiss in a Hollywood action movie. The non-magical inhabitants are typically two-dimensional and stupid, with the possible exception of Stephanie’s parents, though even they’re portrayed as fairly ditsy and judgemental. I think this is quite standard fare for children’s books - that the children know better than the supposedly mature adults - and one I found fairly amusing. I had a couple of writing quibbles and found the ending a little rushed and a tad unrealistic, but really the only significant thing I felt was missing was a bigger emotional storyline - sure its an adventure filled with magical mayhem and jeopardy, but I never really felt terribly worried about any of the characters. I expect, though, that this is my adult perspective getting in the way, that I am used to the emotional maturity seen in books written for teenagers. I doubt that those who are younger would be aware of the difference, nor that it would concern them.

Lastly, one massive thing in Skulduggery’s favour is that it can be enjoyed equally by girls and boys. A lot of fiction written for children is quite biased toward boy brains or girl brains (think Daisy Meadows and Steve Cole), and understandably so given the scientific evidence showing that there are significant differences in the way that boys and girls, men and women think, react and behave, but it is refreshing when an author is able to bridge the gap so succinctly. A strong female heroine for the girls, action and skeletons for the boys. What more could anyone want?

*Please note: the wording is this quote is changed slightly from the book (I left out the actions that were written so as to highlight the banter between the two characters).

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