Monday, August 18, 2014

MMGM: Skulduggery Pleasant

by Derek Landy
(31st March 2007, HarperCollins Children's Books)  

Book Description:
When Stephanie Edgley’s uncle, a best-selling horror author, is killed, she’s thrown into a world she never could have imagined. She learns that Gordon Edgley’s stories are real, and that she herself holds the key to the mythical Scepter of the Ancients, a weapon so powerful it can kill gods. But there dark forces bent on capturing it. With the help of Skulduggery Pleasant, the wisecracking skeletal (literally) detective, she must find the Scepter before it’s too late, and the world is plunged into darkness.


Skulduggery Pleasant’s most defining quality is its flair. It’s a story told with such cinematic panache that it’s difficult to imagine kids that wouldn’t love reading it. Beginning with a short-and-sweet setup, the tale soon picks up steam, delivering action that doesn’t let up until the explosive finale. 

Dialogue is one of the Landy’s fortes. Clever speeches and snappy retorts shake things up and keep the pages turning. And although characterization as a whole is not an asset here, the character of Skulduggery is just great. His dry wit and bravery make for a compelling – not to mention highly entertaining – protagonist. The world building is also outstanding: original and fantastical with the perfect amount of danger and intrigue. If a secret world of magic truly existed, I would imagine it would be close to what the author has envisioned here.  

The mythos if this book is impressive as well. The concepts of the Faceless Ones and the Ancients are unique and make for an interesting backdrop for the action occurring in this, and I would imagine other, volumes in the series. Also, I like the ideas of Elemental and Adept magic, and the differing properties of each. 


Choppy, and sometimes awkward, writing is an ever-present evil, and over-description during actions sequences can be confusing. Landy also falls back on showing not telling often, going so far as to describe Stephanie’s disposition and personality for the reader instead of demonstrating it through her actions. 

Characterization rarely rises above archetype and stereotype, especially in the case of Stephanie, our main character. This would have understandable (she’s a child and still forming her personality) if not for the fact that she’s repeatedly described as mature and wise, and that this is not at all evident in her behavior. Mevolent, one of the antagonists, is bound to elicit comparisons to Voldemort, and main villain Serpine’s “agonizing death” is a pretty obvious mash-up of the Cruciatis and Killing Curses from Harry Potter. 

There are some pretty glaring inconsistencies in terms of logic as well. For example, I find it difficult to believe (not to mention disconcerting) that a twelve-year-old girl would get into the car of a strange man in front of her neighbors without occasioning any concern from them. I likewise feel that the reasons behind Skulduggery involving Stephanie in the first place are implausible and contrived.  

Skulduggery’s trademark irreverent humor frequently bleeds into the dialogue of others characters, making it less effective when he himself is using it, and further confusing characterization.

Much of the plot of this book is based on the concept of the fabled Scepter of the Ancients, and while this concept is good, it’s too underdeveloped to make for a truly interesting weapon. The same goes for this book’s plot in general. Nothing ever really feels as significant as it should, so it’s hard to muster any kind of genuine concern for the characters. 

Though it serves too much as a setup for future volumes and suffers from some major flaws, Skulduggery Pleasant is a stylish, fantastical, action-packed adventure that will delight young readers and have them clamoring for more of the titular skeleton detective. 

Rating: (6.5/10)

Get it on Book Depository.

For more excellent MG book recommendations, go to Shannon Messenger's blog.

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  1. My students love these, but I agree with you on the writing!

    1. I'm not surprised. Because it reads like a TV show or movie, this series would definitely be popular with most kids. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Have not read these yet (have them, though!). Am hoping hoping this is my week of catch up reading with ALL THE BOOKS. That may be a tad ambitious though!

    1. There are already about eight books out and another being released in a few days, so you'll certainly be busy! :) Good luck!

  3. The cover alone would draw many readers (probably boys). Good reminder on the showing emotions rather than telling. It's so easy to tell but so much more powerful to show. Thanks for the review. I'll be taking a look at the book soon.

    1. Yeah, I'm always surprised how often authors tell not show. I mean, it's usually a sign of an amateur, so you'd think they'd be more careful! Thanks for commenting.

  4. The cover alone would have put me off of this one. Thanks for the review. My grandson might like this one.

    1. Yeah, I think a lot of kids would like it. Thanks for commenting.