Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Digital Audiobook narrated by Rupert Degas
Published by HarperCollins on April 3, 2007
Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #1
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult
Length: 392 pages or 7 hours, 15 minutes
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Meet Skulduggery Pleasant
Ace Detective, Snappy Dresser, Razor–tongued Wit, Crackerjack Sorcerer, and Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton
—as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented twelve-year-old.
These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil.
The end of the world?
Over his dead body.
Before I go into details, I do want to say that I think Skulduggery Pleasant is one of those books I’m going to have to re-read in hard copy. While the audiobook narration wasn’t strictly bad on this one, the voices didn’t really fit the characters in my head, and it wasn’t working for me the way I thought it could.
I really enjoy this obscure little subgenre of “humorous fantasy books written by western European authors”. Derek Landy’s style falls comfortably in with Jonathan Stroud, Douglas Addams, Eoin Colfer, and Terry Pratchett. Also Christopher Moore (American). Skulduggery Pleasant was a fun book with fantastic, witty humor. It’s also one I’m struggling to classify, because Stephanie is a middle grader but this is certainly a book that can be enjoyed by adults. In fact, this is one of the few books that looks like it’s for younger readers, but I’ve witnessed adult strangers reading in real life. That said, the themes are not too mature for younger readers and while there is a great deal of discussion about death… well there’s plenty of that in Harry Potter and that’s “childrens”, so there were are.
There were a lot of things I enjoyed here. I liked Skulduggery a lot. His character at first may seem flat, but I felt like it was more that he was guarded. He is awkward and funny without meaning to be, and those characters are always great. I also appreciated that Stephanie felt like a kid – it’s far too common in YA that ‘tweens and teens are aged up. There was some fun characterization here that I, personally, had to push through the narration to reach. I feel like I didn’t really appreciate the minor characters enough, and that’s something I’ll be looking for in the re-read. It’s not that they weren’t memorable – I felt like it was more that they didn’t click with me.
As far as plot is concerned, there’s a lot going on here. The reader is introduced a conspiracy and a world and a magic system all at once, and we aren’t really given time to absorb it before the story plows forward. It’s fast enough that you aren’t really thinking “but why?” while you’re reading… but it hits you later. The story seems simple and straightforward, but the magic system is complicated and not well explained (yet?). The names made perfect sense, however, but the reader is asked to accept a lot unquestioningly.
The writing is simple, no unnecessary flourishes. I think that’s good in an urban fantasy book – flowery writing throws me off when the setting is museums and businesses. As I mentioned, I did find the overall pacing a bit quick, but it’s a book I’m willing to re-read. There were underlying jokes and comments in the dialogue that hit me unexpectedly, and I found myself chuckling a couple sentences later. That’s always a fun surprise.
Generally speaking, I think I would recommend Skulduggery Pleasant to readers of various ages, particularly if these readers are fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The story is light and fun, with good characters, and a lot of promise as the series continues forward.
How do you feel about anti-heroes? Skulduggery is definitely one of these, and I’m a fan! I do think that they can be overdone, though. Tell me your favorite anti-hero in the comments. 🙂