UK/Australian Title: Skulduggery Pleasant
American/Canadian Title: Scepter of the Ancients
Author: Derek Landy
Published: HarperCollins, 2007
Genre: Children's comic fantasy
Skulduggery Pleasant is the first of a rapidly expanding series for children and young adults. It is comparable to Debi Gliori's Pure Dead Magic series, and I have heard it compared to the Artemis Fowl series, although I am somewhat dubious as to the validity of that comparison. This is a fast paced, exciting, and witty book, slightly formulaic and with much more violence than children's books were allowed to have when I was a kid.
Before writing the Skulduggery series Derek Landy was a playwright, and it shows in his writing. The top blurb on the American edition claims that it is "a fast-paced and movie-ready read" (New York Daily News), and it's right. The action scenes read like they are written for a movie set, and you can recognize a number of hackneyed scenes that we've all seen in a hundred movies. The dialog is also movie-ready, although a bit overdone. The conversation of Skulduggery and his young ward Stephanie reminds me of a conversation with a witty grandfather, who has been collecting bon mots for decades. I enjoy it, but even I find it a bit much at times, so I can imagine that others might find it highly annoying. (Personally, the finely tuned back and forth reminds me somewhat of Douglas Adams, although on a much less chaotic level).
Skulduggery glanced at her as he drove. "Are you hurt? Are you injured?"
"No, just a bruise or two. I'm fine, really. You don't have to worry about me."
"Stephanie, you just jumped off a building."
"Yes, but the branches broke my fall. Every one of them."
"And how were the branches?"
"A lot unlike pillows."
"You could have been killed."
"But I wasn't."
"I'm not denying that you make a good point, but the fact is you could have been. I've already lost a dear friend to all this, and I don't want that to happen again."
She looked at him. "Are you saying that you'd be very upset if I died?"
"Very is such a strong a strong word..."
"Well, if you teach me some magic, maybe I wont get hurt so badly next time."
"You said you weren't hurt."
"Are you kidding? I jumped off a building -- of course I'm hurt."
--Skulduggery Pleasant, Chapter 13
That pretty much gives a you good idea of the tone of the entire book, although the action sequences are quite a bit more exciting. If you found that amusing, you will probably like this book. If it was too hokey for you, you will probably not like this book.
A quick note on the violence: this book contains some scenes of torture, many deaths, and the author likes to give descriptions of blinding pain. It is no worse than the later books of the Harry Potter series, and rather reminded me of The Princess Bride. It claims that it is for ages 10 and up; depending on how much TV your kid watches (and what kind of shows), you might want to put it off for a few more years. But I'm a bit of a wuss, and I tend to be over-protective when it comes to torture.
There are currently three other books in the Skulduggery series, with more on the way. I have not read them yet, but I can tell you that the first book did not end with any major cliff-hangers, so I assume that the stories will be somewhat autonomous.