Friday, 23 April 2010

Mini Book Review: Skullduggery Pleasant

In my quest for books to study I've been consuming a large amount of kids lit lately. Finally, I repeat, FINALLY, I found a book worth talking about.

Skullduggery Pleasant is about the eponymous dead detective and his (young, female) side-kick. And, whilst the female character is only supposed to be 12, the writing is mature and witty, something that I've found lacking in a number of other novels I've read lately. It's almost as if some writers think that language and comedy have to be dumbed down if a book is aimed at pre-teens. Not so for Derek Landy - his characters are truly brought to life through their thoroughly entertaining banter.

Stephanie, the young girl, has a boring life until Mr S.P. turns up, plunging her into a world full of magic and danger that she never knew existed, (you know this story, right?). Stephanie has few skills in the magic world, yet is determined to learn and develop her own abilities. She is served through most of the book by her stubbornness and ability to learn fast, but that's not to say that she doesn't need saving by her mentor on numerous occasions.

(Which is perfectly valid really, seeing as she's only 12 and has never fought freaky monsters before.)

S.P. as a character is witty, fun and mysterious, always allowing Stephanie to come along and do her part, but protecting her in the most dangerous situations. This might all seem a bit patriarchal, but surely a completely patriarchal S.P. would make Stephanie stay at home, out of harms way, not expose her to the risks of his unorthodox methods of detective work. Which would make a thoroughly boring story really, wouldn't it? There needs to be a balance between letting the female character have her own agency and giving a young, inexperienced character the chance to develop (and just being instantly awesome isn't very plausible or interesting, is it?)

Furthermore, Stephanie also has a corresponding female character to look up to, in the form of a mercenary assassin called Tanith. Strong, skilled and respected, Tanith bonds with Stephanie and also fights to protect her.

It's interesting to note that the jacket of the book has only a picture of Skullduggary Pleasant, no other characters. The blurb doesn't really emphasise the female protagonist. This is a book aimed at the widest audience it can possibly get. It is also blatantly the start of a series, where Stephanie is going to grow and develop (hopefully) into a powerful mage.

I see this as a fantastic start, the characters of Tanith and Stephanie are begging to be filled out and developed into kick-ass, awesome women and S.P. is fabulous comic relief and an all around bad-ass. The dialogue is mature and fun and the story line is gripping. I need more.


  1. Will look it up! I love reading cross-over (actually just kids lit!) stuff on holidays. Although I don't get through so many since having a kid. Did you have a look at the Icemark stuff? I reread the first one on a hol just the other week (replying to your other post made me pick it up again). I'd forgotten quite what a strong female lead it depicts. She becomes queen (aged 14) and leads her people to a massive victory over an unstoppable foe. Now I just need another hol to read the rest of the series!

  2. I love reading cross-over/kids lit any time - it's always so easy to digest! I haven't had a look at the Icemark series yet, still working through my pre-existing pile, but with a further recommendation from you I'll definitely search it out. How old is your kid? I've got a (nearly) 3 year old and I know how hard it is to find time to just read!