Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have had the print book on my bookshelf for years, but I decided to try the audiobook from my library as this looked like it would be fun to listen to. Turns out I was right. This was a lot of fun. The narrator was great. He had a delicious Irish accent, although he modified it to suit other characters. I liked his sort of flat tone he used for Skulduggery, making him sound kind of ironic and mysterious, like there was a lot going on under the surface.
At first, it's a bit odd. There's some weird music between interludes, followed by a low male voice saying, "Yeah!" I thought that was pretty weird and random, but it grew on me, fast. I had no expectations, so it was all novel for me. I expected the story to be campy, but it turns out to be pretty dark.
Now the characters.
Skulduggery is a fun and likable character. But he's also credibly tough. He's a sorcerer who happened to lose his body in an epic battle. I wondered how the author would get me to buy into a story where the main character is just a skeleton. It took about ten minutes. When I heard the explanation, I was like, "Okay then." At some points, I'm skeptical that he's so blase about 12-year -old Stephanie going along with him on some very dangerous adventures. But I have to remind myself that the target audience is 12-year-olds. Skulduggery is a chill dude. It's funny how sanguine he is about Stephanie's bossing him around and threatening to hit him. Maybe he enjoys it because he's lonely. He was great friends with her uncle, so he might have developed a fondness for her via his friend. At any rate, he was very tolerant to Stephanie and he clearly took it very seriously to protect her, even if he did take her along on his dangerous missions. Knowing Stephanie, she probably would have followed him. Skulduggery is a good guy. You would think he'd be menacing, with the whole skeletal appearance, but he's an all around good guy, although he does have enough of a dark edge to be appealing and authentic. The interview with him at the end was awesome. Just the right touch for the audiobook.
Stephanie is in some ways very much a girl of her age. Tween and teenage girls have attitude for days. Yes, it's a bit of a generalization, but there is a lot of truth in it. She also had a very vivid inner life that I recognized in myself. Not that I would have wanted to do every thing she does (okay, maybe some of it). She's pretty saucy, if I'm honest. It made me laugh and part of thought I'd get the taste slapped out of my mouth if I had talked to an adult that way when I was a kid. All in all, she's a well-drawn character, with the sass, bravery, sense of honor and a great sense of humor that should appeal to most readers.
Together, they make quite a team. I enjoyed their buddy movie banter. Even if Stephanie could be kind of rude to Skulduggery. I loved it when he told her she was "very annoying."
The secondary characters are good, all making sense to the story. I liked the interactions between Stephanie and her clueless parents. They were cute. In a way, it was pretty obvious that Stephanie pretty much got away with a lot more than you'd expect for her age with them.
I like that the tone of this book stays intense but with some good humor. I like that while Landry doesn't take himself too seriously, he shows respect for the intellect of his young readers. In other words, he doesn't make the story too silly or ridiculous. We are dealing with a very evil set of villains with uber-nefarious purposes. Some aspects were fairly creepy, and it reminded me a little of Simon R. Green's Nightside books in a good way. China Sorrow especially definitely made me think of a Nightside character. Don't get me wrong. I don't think this was derivative at all. It feels novel and unique amongst the many urban fantasy stories I've read or encountered. It has a lot of good action, and Skulduggery can fight, with his fists, with his trusty sidearm, and with his elemental magic. Speaking of, the magic elements were well done. They had a unique feel. I like the explanation about the different types of magic users. I think this series would make a fun movie. I'd be cool with either live action or animation.
I definitely want to continue this series, and I am crossing my fingers that I can get the rest of these on audiobook.
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