Skullduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy

Posted on January 24, 2010


I have had this book recommended to me so many times in the past few years that I was finally forced to bow to peer pressure and give it a read. It has been showered with awards, spawned two sequels and also a film adaptation is in the pipeline, so it has to be good. Right?

For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid it, it tells the story of Stephanie, whose uncle dies in suspicious circumstances and she encounters Skulduggery Pleasant, a detective who happens to be a living skeleton. From then on, it becomes your general “normal person is plunged into magic and mystery” story and builds up pace rapidly as the evil villain is eventually dealt with.

There are quite a few things that I really loved about the story. The first thing is that the story belts along at a hell of a pace. A lot of fantasy stories plod along so slowly that you find yourself thinking you’d rather be in the mundanity of real life than this alternate reality that moves in half speed. This book does not have that problem at all. There is always something going on and you are never left wanting for action.

But (you saw that coming), having action present is very different to the action actually being worth reading. Most of the time, I loved reading it and felt that he captured the tone of the situation beautifully. However, there were certain action scenes that just didn’t come off at all and I couldn’t help but laugh at some of them. It’s a shame really that they were so hit and miss as books like this hinge on the quality of their action.

Perhaps the thing that endeared me to this tale the most was the level of humour involved. Almost all of the characters have a lovely sarcastic streak and Skullduggery in particular has a smart comeback for absolutely every situation, which is great to break the depressing mood of the storyline. Several times I paused reading in order to read out one of the quality put-downs to whoever happened to be nearby at the time. I think that Landy could quite easily write a more comedy-centric book and pull it off perfectly. Project idea for once this concept runs its course?

There was a particular device that I think was overused throughout this story; betrayal. It seemed to me that every chapter (especially as we neared the climax) had at least one character betraying another, which was too much to be honest. I understand the idea that in such a complex tactical plot, there would be a lot of double crossing, but I don’t understand why every character had to change sides so often. It was ridiculous and seemed like a lazy way of facilitating the ending.

Despite its drawbacks, I did enjoy it and I will read the sequels at some point in the near future. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone as it is a nice way to spend your time and is certainly a long way ahead of other books in its genre.

Skullduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy ***

By Tom.