Verdict: Fun and well-written, but doesn’t quite hit the mark for me.
Stephanie Edgeley attends the funeral of her Uncle Gordon and meets a strange man called Skulduggery Pleasant. From then on, things get a bit crazy.
I know there’ll be a lynch mob waiting outside my house as soon as I post this, and I regret that I can’t give Skulduggery Pleasant more stars. I really wanted to. It was funny and well-written, Skulduggery himself was incredibly witty… I think I may have developed a crush on him at some point which, given he’s a very old, reanimated skeleton, presents a whole set of ethical and logistical problems. The plot was solid and well-thought out, too, if a little predictable.
Stephanie bothered me. I realise as the protagonist, she needed to stand out from the crowd, but I found her unbelievable even for a children’s fantasy series. Likeable, certainly, but her repartee with Skulduggery – a 400 year old (or so) skeleton – felt too polished to be convincing. I’m all for witty, strong-willed girls (who isn’t?) but at twelve years’ old, there should be some reflection of doubt before flipping yourself into a dangerous world you only just found out about. It’s not like her introduction to the world was a gentle giant knocking on the door and buying her an owl. It was being attacked, nearly dying, and [spoilers] finding out that her beloved uncle had been brutally murdered. A little hesitation wouldn’t go amiss.
The secondary characters are all interesting but the book didn’t explore them as much as I would have liked. I presume this exploration is being saved for later books, which I look forward to.
The novel was also a little slow to start. It did pick up, but I began this book twice because the first time I wasn’t gripped and preferred to move on to another. This was also a problem my nephew (who is the demographic for the series) had too. I returned to the book, but he didn’t (although I have since tried to convince him that he should). It seems a shame that this implies there are children missing out on later books because the first wasn’t quite ‘up to scratch’.
Although it’s definitely worthwhile, the first Skulduggery reads very much like ‘a first of a series’ – all set up, not a lot of depth. The humour, concept and dialogue makes the book worth reading by itself and, if Landy develops his characters and world (which I suspect he will), there is a lot of potential for a brilliantly funny and imaginative series. Sadly, this first book doesn’t quite deliver but I do have high hopes for the next.
Side-note: I have since read more of the books in the series, which consistently achieve higher stars and address some of the problems in this review. I would advise anyone reading this review to persevere because the pay-off is definitely worth your time!