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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Skulduggery Pleasant* by Derek Landy, illustrated by Tom Percival- young readers book review
Skulduggery Pleasant
by Derek Landy, illustrated by Tom Percival
Ages 9-12 416 pages HarperTrophy March 2008 Paperback    

Skulduggery Pleasant is a cracking children’s fantasy story (perfectly acceptable entertainment for adults, too) that doesn’t offer anything particularly new in the way of plots but has some of the best characters in any book for years. The story focuses on Stephanie Edgley, a young girl whose uncle's death sets off an extraordinary series of events. It is at the funeral with her extremely unpleasant relatives (giving the awful Dursleys of Harry Potter fame a run for their money) that she first suspects strange things to be afoot.

Gordon, the dead uncle, made a fortune writing stories about the arcane and mystical, and even seemed to believe in it to an unhealthy degree - getting in with some strange people (or, as other people see it, “a bad crowd”), and there are certainly some unexplained mysteries about his life, death, and mansion. At the funeral, Stephanie meets a rather odd chap who calls himself Skulduggery Pleasant and meets him again at the reading of the will. She seems to inherit everything of value, her parents something of modest value, her unpleasant relatives something that seems pathetic, and Mr. Pleasant merely gets advice - but, of course, all is not as it seems.

Without going further into it, it’s enough to say that Skulduggery and Stephanie go off on an amazing adventure to save the world, etc. All the normal sort of thing - a menacing bad guy, the threat of an ancient evil being awoken and destroying / enslaving anything, an unknown ancestry of great importance…. The plot is rather straightforward and certainly not amazingly original, though there are certainly some good ideas and a lot of creative zing. The action sequences are nicely written, and there is a genuine feeling of excitement as the plot unfolds, even if it is a tad predictable. It all moves along at a good pace, though, which overcomes any problems that might arise from the predictability, and there are one or two small surprises along the way.

What makes this book shine, however, is the array of interesting characters and the chemistry between them, particularly between Skulduggery and Stephanie. He’s the typical hard-bitten, tough, wise-cracking detective - the fact that he’s not exactly human isn’t a big issue - and Stephanie is a lot cannier and has a considerably more developed sense of irony than most 12-year-old girls. Most of the other characters - good or bad - are also excellent, with their history perhaps only hinted at, but each one has a motivation for what they do. The eponymous Mr. Pleasant has some curiosity-arousing background himself, which is used to good effect to add a “which side is he really on?” element.

Mostly derived from the chemistry between the characters is the book’s main strong point - humor. Skulduggery Pleasant is a very, very funny book - though I fear that much of the humor may be completely lost on younger readers. Author Derek Landy has created here a convincing world that makes up for in creative sparkle and witty exchanges between the characters what it lacks in originality and complexity. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable read that children or adults alike will heartily enjoy.
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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  Dave Seaman/2008 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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