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Skulduggery Pleasant: And He's the Good Guy    by Derek Landy order for
Skulduggery Pleasant
by Derek Landy
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I wasn't sure about the premise of Skulduggery Pleasant when I first heard about it, but a detective protagonist who's a reanimated skeleton really does work - trust me. This hard-edged hero is paired with Stephanie Edgley, a spunky twelve-year-old who may or not have magic in her own bones.

The book begins with the death of Stephanie's beloved uncle Gordon Edgley, who wrote bestselling 'tales of horror and magic and wonder'. At his funeral, Stephanie spies a thin man in a tan overcoat with wild frizzy hair under a wide-brimmed hat, gigantic sunglasses, and a scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face. She's intrigued by this man with the odd name of Skulduggery Pleasant. Gordon's will, to the dismay of his greedy brother Fergus and family, leaves an ugly broach to Fergus's wife Beryl, his French villa to Stephanie's parents, and his mansion, assets and royalties to his favorite niece.

After a breakdown of the family car and a storm leave Stephanie on her own overnight at the mansion, it's broken into by a frightening man looking for a key. When Stephanie is rescued by Skulduggery Pleasant, she sees him in all his skeletal glory, and hears the story of how he was killed in a battle against nasty sorcerors, but came back - unfortunately as a bag of bones - to help the good guys win the war. Now he's a detective who plans to look into the mystery of Gordon's death and to find out what Stephanie's burglar was after. Despite warnings of the likelihood of a horrible death, Stephanie insists on going along.

She learns the difference between Adepts and Elementals (Skulduggery is one of the latter), and accompanies him to a magical library where charismatic China Sorrows tells them that Skulduggery's old nemesis Nefarian Serpine has been enquiring about the mythical Scepter of the Ancients. The bony detective suspects that Serpine plans to bring back the Faceless Ones and destroy humankind. The race is on to find the scepter before Serpine's minions do, pulling Stephanie and Skul into non-stop action and violent encounters with a variety of monstrous creatures.

Along the way - enlivened for the reader by the banter exchanged by the duo - Stephanie discovers her second name, and they gain allies in Ghastly Bespoke (a tailor, who makes Stephanie a new outfit), and ninja-like swordswoman Tanith Low. Unfortunately, Serpine has allies too, in unexpected places. But when matters seem most desperate, Skulduggery tells them (in words that reflect Derek Landy's martial arts background), 'There's no such thing as winning or losing. There is won and there is lost, there is victory and defeat ... Everything in between is still left to fight for.'

It seems like every new YA fantasy series gets compared to Harry Potter. Though I find most such comparisons ridiculous, I recommend Skulduggery Pleasant to fans of both Potter and Artemis Fowl - it shares fast-paced action with the latter and a hidden magical world with both. Don't miss this thrilling start to a new magical series, starring (finally!) a brave young woman. Filled with the witty wordplay at which Irish authors tend to excel, it's enormous fun for middle schoolers and up.

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