Published by HarperCollins
Genres: Adolescence, Fantasy & Magic, Urban Fantasy, Humorous Stories, Paranormal
Source: My home library
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Stephanie's uncle Gordon is a writer of horror fiction. But when he dies and leaves her his estate, Stephanie learns that while he may have written horror, it certainly wasn't fiction. Pursued by evil forces intent on recovering a mysterious key, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source - the wisecracking skeleton of a dead wizard.
Where to begin with Skulduggery Pleasant.
It’s an Urban Fantasy about a private investigator with magical powers. Sound familiar? It should because that’s the Dresden Files too. But unlike the decidedly adult tone of Jim Butchers master-works of Urban Fantasy, Derek Landy offers us something just as good, but a little more Artemis Fowl.
Set in and around Dublin, Skulduggery Pleasant is an Urban Fantasy/Hidden World fantasy yarn that moves with the speed of a bullet and has a dry humour that runs throughout that is so often overlooked in children’s books because most assume it’d be wasted. But an Irish author will write for the children that they know. And Irish and British kids know dry humour, it’s in our blood. The darkness of the character of skulduggery is actually refreshing in a protagonist for a children’s book too. This is a character who openly admits he’s out for revenge, and I’ve got to say, in my minds eye he looks god-damned terrifying. I mean he’s a skeleton in a suit who can shoot fireballs from his hand!
He befriends a local girl Named Stephanie when her Uncle is killed for having something important to the villain and she joins him in the search to figure out what the hell is going on and to get to the bottom of who killed her wealthy Uncle. It’s good stuff. If it was done by a less talented mind then it’d either be cheesy and boring, or far too disturbing to be released as a kids book. But Mr Landy balances the bizarre, the terrifying, and comedy well and gives up a blend of the 3 that fill a gap in the young readers market that’s been there since goosebumps wrapped up.
There are many allusions to Irish and general European folklore within the narrative, but the lore of the world is all its own. And it’s written damned well. There are some word choices that I personally wouldn’t have used but hey, I’m not an author. If it works for Landy it’s obviously good enough to be published.
The characters are well rounded and likeable, even the villain is kind of likeable in a villainous way. The main protagonist, Stephanie Edgley later known as Valkyrie Cain, is believably human. And shows the drive and want of someone to bring to justice those who had taken a loved one from her. Over the course of the first novel she goes from damsel in distress to certified bad-ass with magical abilities all her own.
Her parents are kept in the dark throughout, because hey… it’s a kids fantasy… no one needs stuffy parents coming along and ruining all the shenanigans. But when they do feature, they show a great deal of love and almost understanding for Stephanie. They have all kinds of concern for her, that comes from a very real place of love, but most of all, her dad is fucking hilarious. He’s a genius with a memory problem so there are scenes where he’s walking around looking for pants, or when he meets her later in the book and conveniently forgot underwear when he was wearing itchy trousers. He made me laugh more than any other single character.
And as much as I loved this first instalment to a series, it wasn’t quite perfect. As I pointed out earlier, the Private investigator, magical world hidden in plain sight, the wizarding, even the end of the world cat and mouse murder mystery are all very reminiscent of The Dresden Files. But I think that that is a risk of Urban Fantasy detective stories. Jim Butcher does it the best, he essentially built that sub genre. But that doesn’t mean this doesnt have it’s place in the pond. this is a lighter urban fantasy about a girl who ultimately is struggling to come to terms with a family secret and the loss of a loved one by forces unknown. And most importantly, it’s a fun read, which is what you want in a book like this.
I can’t wait to continue the series to see how the relationships develop further and to see how Valkyrie grows into this detective extraordinaire. It sounds and feels like it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Happy reading all!