Friday, January 18, 2019

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Long, long ago, in 2009 to be exact, I reviewed the first three books of an Irish fantasy series that seemed to me the most awesome thing since Harry Potter (actually, not being a particular Potter fan, I liked them better!) I booktalked them like crazy and then was both annoyed and disappointed when I discovered how difficult they were to find. I ended up buying some from the UK, picking others up at random stores when I saw them, and then just got generally discouraged. Years passed by and while I still diligently booktalked the series and kids frequently grabbed the first couple, the series had waned in popularity.

In the summer of 2018 I was thrilled to discover that HarperCollins was making another push to bring this popular series to life in the US, reissuing new paperbacks with covers that really grab readers and making the whole series available! In the fall I received review copies of the first three titles and decided it was definitely time for a reread.

The first title introduces Stephanie Edgley, a self-contained girl of twelve, at her eccentric Uncle Gordon's funeral. She's intrigued by a glimpse of a strange, tall man, his face hidden, and later encounters him again at the reading of her uncle's will where she finds herself the beneficiary of the bulk of his fortune and his house (to the fury of her nasty relatives). A few days later, left alone at the house, she's enjoying her own company, when a strange and terrifying man pushes his way in and she's saved by the mysterious stranger. He warns her away from his magical, dangerous world, but Stephanie refuses to leave and so she enters the world of Skulduggery Pleasant.

He's a living, breathing skeleton, a detective (of sorts) and there's a whole other world Stephanie never knew existed. A world where terrifying ancient gods called the Faceless Ones are being called by dangerous sorcerers and only a desperate battle will keep the world safe. Stephanie doesn't hesitate; she's always wanted to be part of something, to have something happen more than just the daily round of home and school. Her new life is terrifying, magical, confusing, dangerous, but never, ever boring. Soon she's encountering her uncle's strange stories in real life and coming to be friends with the eccentric skeleton known as Skulduggery Pleasant.

So, while this can be compared to Harry Potter, it's like jumping straight into the end of the series. From the get-go readers will know that there's a lot of gray in this world and it's hard to know who to trust. Even Skulduggery Pleasant has secret motives and a long past. There's no instant magical heritage or chosen ones either; Stephanie may have the blood of the ancients running through her veins but she's still a child and is going up against fighters who have had hundreds of years to train and prepare. For those who wanted more from Rowling's female characters, Stephanie, aka Valkyrie Cain is everything you've wanted. When she falls down (or off - literally - a wall) she determines to pick herself up and train harder. When she masters one magical skill she's onto the next. She's surrounded by powerful and complex women, China Sorrows, Tanith Low, and others.

Finally, it's extremely funny. Even while you're desperately worried that Stephanie won't survive her introduction into this world or that utter disaster will befall everyone, you can't help laughing at the witty one-liners dropped by Skulduggery and the other characters.

Verdict: This is a great opportunity to establish a new fan base for this wonderful series; recommend it to your Harry Potter, Rick Riordan, and fantasy fans or to any readers who want a great adventure, humor, and some truly awesome heroines.

ISBN: 9780008248789; This edition published May 2018 by HarperCollins; Purchased for the library; Review copy provided by the publisher

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