by Derek Landy
“Her parents wanted her to find her own way in life. That’s what they’d said countless times in the past. Of course, they’d been referring to school subjects and college applications and job prospects. Presumably, at no stage did they factor living skeletons and magic underworlds into their considerations. If they had, their advice would probably have been very different.”
When Stephanie's eccentric uncle suddenly dies, she meets someone rather mysterious at the reading of the will. Skulduggery Pleasant, her uncle's old friend, covers himself with a coat, scarf, had and dark glasses. When Stephanie is attacked by a terrifying man, Skulduggery reveals himself to be a walking, talking skeleton, an ancient sorcerer whose lost his life fighting the forces of evil, and pulled himself back together to finish him off. In the last few hundred years, he has become a wisecracking detective. Together, he and Stephanie must face a new threat, and stop a villain from destroying the world.
This book was absolutely clever and charming. While the plot was rather simple and conventional for the genre, and the villain was one dimensional, but the meat of the story is Skulduggery and Stephanie's relationship. Skulduggery is witty and silly fun on his own, but together with Stephanie the banter and chemistry is electric. They bat scenes back and forth like a tennis ball, matching each other in wit, humor and grit.
I loved Stephanie's slow assimilation into the magic culture. Once she knows it exists, she must choose to turn back to her old life, or plunge forward wholeheartedly into the danger and the dark. As she steps further and further in, her understanding of the very real threats that face them grow and her continuous determination to help Skulduggery is heartening. In this world, people have three names: the secret name they are born with, the name they are given by their parents, and the third name that they choose. That third name protects a sorcerer from using their other two names to control them, and it is usually deliciously descriptive. The moment Stephanie chooses her name was so powerful, I got shivers.
It bothered me how much Stephanie was on the sidelines of the fighting, either hurt or watching. However, she is 12 and a magic noob, so it makes sense that Skulduggery does most of the ass-kicking. Tanith Lee, a female swordslinger who joins up with them, gives us ample badassery on her own. And Landy allows her to giggle with Stephanie, which makes me so happy. No stoic, cardboard, humorless fighter chicks in this book!
I also appreciated Stephanie's family life. Usually in stories like this, the protagonist's family abuses them, or is apathetic, or is dead. Stephanie's family cares! Her dad is absolutely lovely, and has one of the most touching scenes in the book. You worry that in the sequels, Stephanie is going to break his heart.
A fun and fast juvenile read. I did wish it was more of a magical detective story, and less of an epic battle of good vs evil, but it was a joy to sit in the Bentley with Skulduggery and Stephanie and listen to them talk. I look forward to see where this series goes (there are 8 of them!)