Co-Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

h1 August 1st, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

What: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy; published by HarperCollins, April 2007 (review copies)

About (without revealing too many spoilers): When twelve-year-old Dubliner Stephanie Edgley’s strange Uncle Gordon dies, she is thrust into a world of magic with Skulduggery Pleasant — a walking, talking, wisecracking skeleton who can throw fire with the snap of his bony fingers — at her side. The death of her uncle spawns an underground, frantic search — by inhabitants of a world Stephanie can hardly believe exists — for the Scepter of the Ancients, a weapon that mythology dictates will allow one to rule the world. And, as it turns out, Skulduggery’s nemesis, Nefarian Serpine, is the one after the weapon he believes can call forth the world’s original, rather baneful gods from their obscurity. Writes Kirkus Reviews: “A high-intensity tale shot through with spectacular magic battles, savage mayhem, cool outfits, monsters, hidden doors, over-the-top names, narrow escapes, evil schemes and behavior heroic, ambiguous and really, really bad.” Stephanie and Skulduggery, along with a few other noble and magical folks, struggle throughout the novel to keep one step ahead of Serpine and his evil lackeys — all within a world of magic; super, special-secret powers; lots and lots of witty, droll dialogue, and some kickin’ good action scenes. This is Landy’s debut novel, though he has written screenplays for horror films (and, hey, check out the Skulduggery movie news) . . .

eisha: Oh, this has a lot of potential as a movie. I mean, the book felt like a screenplay, didn’t it? The really standout feature for me was the dialogue. Stephanie and Skulduggery had that sarcastic banter thing goin’ on – it was like Moonlighting without the sexual tension:

Skulduggery emerged from the shop a few minutes later. He walked up to her as she leaned against the Bentley, arms crossed and staring at a crack in the pavement.

“So that went well,” he said eventually. When she didn’t answer, he nodded and said, “Did I tell you how I first met Ghastly?”

“I don’t want to know.”

“Ah. All right then.” Silence drifted down like smog. “It’s not very interesting, anyway. But it has pirates in it.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Stephanie said. “Is he going to help us or not?”

“Well, he doesn’t think it’s a great idea to have, you know, to have you with me on this one.”

“Oh, really?” Stephanie responded bitterly.

“He seems to think I’m being irresponsible.”

“And what do you think?”

“I have been known to be irresponsible in the past. It’s entirely plausible that it’s happening again.”

With the right cast and director, and some really good CGI, this could be a lot of fun. What did you think?

cover for audio bookJules: Yes to the book almost reading like a screenplay; yes to the snappy dialogue that made me laugh out loud in spots; and, yes, I think Derek Landy needs to take “it was like ‘Moonlighting’ without the sexual tension” as a big ‘ol one-liner pull-out quote for his web site. Good one. Anyway, yes, even the cover screams “movie still.” And that “and he’s the good guy” tag line on the cover is so movie-poster (and made me laugh, too, when I first saw it).

That’s a great excerpt, Eisha. My favorite moment of snappy dialogue was when Stephanie and Tanith and Ghastly (I think that was all) went in to rescue Skulduggery in chapter seventeen, and Stephanie asks if the guards will be expecting them. “‘Serpine is used to the Elders taking forever to make their calm, thought-out decisions,’ Tanith said. ‘So he won’t be expecting anything as amazingly rash and reckless as this.’ Ghastly nodded. ‘That’ll teach him to underestimate stupid people.’ . . . Without a word, the Cleavers ran forward and jumped, legs tucked beneath them, cleared the top of the wall, and disappeared from view. ‘Show-offs,’ Ghastly muttered . . .” Or, later towards the book’s close, when Skulduggery says, “‘Cheer up everyone . . . Since we’re all going to die horribly anyway, what’s there to be worried about?’ Stephanie very much feared she was going ever so slightly insane, because she found herself agreeing wholeheartedly with the living skeleton she was now following out of the room.” Yeah, snappy, quick dialogue. I can see it as a movie, and I hope it’s done well.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but it was a blast to read. And not to get all hokey/cheesy/corny/insert-your-own-adjective-here-depending-on-your-age on you, but if it had just been funny, that would have been . . . well, I still would have laughed as much as I did and enjoyed it somewhat. But Landy succeeds with a bit of an emotional connection, too, for the reader, what with the sometimes-the-greatest-enemy-we-face-is-ourselves theme, the whole “the greatest battle is the darkness within” thread (what the lawyer, Mr. Fedgewick, reads to Skulduggery from the late Gordon in the book’s opening). And then the advice from Gordon to Stephanie, too, in the beginning (“The world is bigger than you know, and scarier than you might imagine. The only currency worth anything is being true to yourself, and the only goal worth seeking is finding out who you really are”) — well, all those bits of wisdom come full circle in the end for both Skulduggery and Stephanie (particularly Stephanie with her self-confidence issues). In other words, Landy made me really care about the characters. And he really packs a punch with all those YA coming-of-age threads (finding out who you are, looks are deceiving, surface is nothing, etc.).

One gripe, though: I wanted to know more about Skulduggery’s past, what happened to his family. But do you suppose there will be a sequel? I jest. HOO HAH, yes! There will be! Landy makes that quite clear, and I’ll be in line to read it. I just hope he delves into Skulduggery’s past more.

And, Eisha, do you think Landy was trying to make some theological commentary with his “people believe all kinds of things when it comes to their religion” explanation of how the Ancients saw the Faceless Ones (who didn’t approve of humanity and demanded worship)? Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I did wonder, especially when Stephanie asked Skulduggery if he believed in any of that, and he responded, “I believe in me, Stephanie, and that’s enough for now.” And I also wondered if Landy was commenting on the current political atmostphere here in the U.S. and/or elsewhere with this moment from Skulduggery: “We live in a time of fear
. . . when we’re too scared of upsetting the status quo to ask the questions we need to be asking.”

I dunno. Am I reading too much into it? It did make me wonder.

eisha: No, I think you’re probably right, there are hints of sociopolitical commentary there. And don’t forget, Landy’s Irish and the book takes place in Ireland, so there’s a whole other level of religious and political tension that may be bleeding over into the themes here. But I’m not going to pretend that I know enough about that scene to try to make any direct comparisons.

And you’re right, if the book were just a stream of hilarious repartees interspersed with fight scenes, I wouldn’t have been nearly as enthusiastic about it. But Skulduggery and Stephanie are engaging, sympathetic characters, as you pointed out. And Ghastly is a great secondary character – kind of Hagrid-y in his big-scary-exterior-surrounds-gentle-good-soul way.

I actually liked that Skulduggery’s past isn’t fully explained, though – I think we got all the backstory we needed for this particular novel in that one statement about his family, and in those occasional hints he throws out (like when he tells Stephanie that he used to have a family crest, but he “abandoned it”). The groundwork is well-laid, now that we’re hooked by his reckless bravery and wit, to find out more about him in a sequel. I’d like to know more about Tanith, too – a kick-ass warrior/magician for hire, who immediately recognizes a kindred spirit in Stephanie and takes her under her wing. She could practically have a book to herself, I’m thinking.

Speaking of Tanith, and Stephanie, wouldn’t this would be a great addition to HipWriterMama’s “Great Books for Girls” list?

Jules: Yes, that would be a good addition to HipWriterMama’s list. Or Jen Robinson’s “Cool Girls of Children’s Literature” list. Or Little Willow’s “Sassy Sidekicks of Children’s Literature” (but would the sidekick be Skulduggery to Stephanie? Stephanie to Skulduggery? Or even just Tanith?). And this is a stretch, but why not: A Year of Reading’s “100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature” list, simply ’cause Skulduggery is a mentor to Stephanie. Oh the lists are everywhere, but adding the novel to all of them would increase the chances of this great book getting read more (though I don’t think it’s hurting for publicity either).

As for Tanith and Stephanie, I got a definite we-will-find-out-later-that-they-are-sisters vibe. I should have marked exactly where in the book I sensed said vibe, but alas, I did not. Did you get that vibe? And-why-do-I-keep-doing-this-so-much? Really, I thought the fact that it will be revealed that they are sisters was so obvious, and so I haven’t brought it up. But now I’m reminded of what assuming does. So, did you (or any other readers out there) get this from the book?

It was fun talkin’ Skulduggery with you. I think I’ve had my say, and I like what you pointed out about the novel (especially about the author being Irish — I kept trying to remember and thought he was Welsh. But now I’ve got it straight. And, aha, I see I could have simply opened up the book to his back-flap bio and read “Derek Landy lives near Dublin, Ireland.” But that would have been too easy).

I would like to add that — appropos to nothing and just in the name of appreciating memorable lines — that I loved this at the beginning of “The Torture Room” chapter: “The moon was out and the stars were twinkling and it really was a beautiful night for pain.” Landy writes with a certain panache, huh?

eisha: He does at that, Jules.

That’s an interesting take on Tanith and Stephanie. I didn’t get that impression – just that they were, you know, kindred spirits or something. Maybe I should read it again a bit more closely. Or maybe you’re making it up. I guess we’ll see when Skulduggery 2: Electric Boogaloo comes out.

I know a lot of our kidlitosphere friends have read this, too. Any thoughts?

13 comments to “Co-Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy”

  1. I haven’t read this yet, but every single email I got from HarperCollins for while had a Skulduggery Pleasant tagline at the bottom. Guess I should have picked it up, huh?

  2. Yeah, I guess the marketing on it was heavy. I know a lot of other kidlitosphere folks have already talked about it — it was generally loved, I believe. Everyone’s out of town now, but maybe when people come back, they can tell me if they think Tanith and Stephanie are sisters. Yes, that’s a hint, people. I wanna know what others think.

    I think you’d like this novel, Sara.

  3. It’s a BRILLIANT book !! Totally, utterly brilliant. I know this might cause a few sighs of “Oh no, here she goes again”, but Skulduggery reminded me of the Doctor so much. All that mad bravado – especially in the face of pain and death, the mysterious past, the fact that he doesn’t fit in with his family – in case you didn’t know, the Doctor is a renegade and an exiled Time Lord, the witty conversation, the accusation of being irresponsible and the acknowledgement that he has been… And he’s darned debonair for a skeleton ! ;D

    I so want to see this movie and I hope Landy does his own screenplay (at least he won’t screw it up !)

    I confess, I didn’t think of Tanith and Stephanie being blood sisters, just sisters in spirit/attitude…

  4. Debonair – that’s a very good word for him, Michele.

  5. This book is on my TBR list. Love your co-review!

  6. Hehe ! Well I am a walking dictionary/thesaurus according to most of my friends ! 😀

  7. Looking forward to this book. It’s on the to-read shelf, staring at me.

  8. Stellar review, stellar book. I greatly enjoyed it. I wrote a less wordy review, but I really admired the construction of the character of Stephanie.

  9. Great review guys! I have to say, I didn’t get the sisters vibe, though. Well, let me put it differently: I hope they’re not sisters. I kind of like the idea of “there are people in the world like you out there.”

    Awesome review, awesome book.

  10. Okay, people . . . I guess I’m alone in this.


    My we-will-find-out-they’re-sisters-later-in-a-sequel vibe was so strong that I thought I’d be pointing out the obvious by mentioning it in this review. Glad I did mention it, though, ’cause I’m now ever-curious to find anyone who might agree with me.

    Anyway, I’ll be busy the rest of the day but will find the spot in the book later (well, I’ll try to find it — but might not be successful) that made me wonder.

    Thanks for your feedback, Kelly.

  11. Loved it with all my heart. All that comedy and wit and suspense makes it a book for all ages. My favourite part is when Tanith tells on Stephanie for “not being professional.”

  12. […] Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy (seven impossible things before breakfast) (tags: derek.landy skulduggery.pleasant skullduggery.pleasant(series) kidlit fantasy mystery girls.kicking.ass […]

  13. I Absolutely LOVED the Skulduggery Pleasant Books! They were so gripping that I could finish one in 2 days! Afterwards, I found my self clicking my fingers and hoping I’d get a flame, LOL. I think Skulduggery and Valkyrie are the perfect pair and Derek couldn’t have done any better than this.

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