Skulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSkulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek LandySkulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy

Scepter of the Ancients is the first book in Derek Landy’s children’s series called SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT. The story follows 11 year old Stephanie Edgley who inherits her eccentric uncle’s property after he dies. Stephanie gets involved with some supernatural goings-on when a thief breaks into her new house (the one her uncle left her) and nearly kills her. To her rescue comes Skulduggery Pleasant — a man who used to be alive but is now a magically animated skeleton. Stephanie and Skulduggery set out to solve a mystery and end up saving the world.

Stephanie is a great little protagonist — she’s smart and logical and mature. Skulduggery Pleasant is also a great character — he’s unusual and amusing, always cracking jokes in a dry but kind of obvious way that should appeal to the target audience of this book (ages 9 and up). Here’s an example from the very end of the book where Skulduggery Pleasant is being interviewed:

Interviewer: How would you describe yourself in five words?

Skulduggery Pleasant: Five words? Right, here goes, in no particular order, least of all alphabetical:  Charming. Witty. Lethal. Brilliant. And modest.

Like I said, kind of obvious. But I will admit to snickering several times. (The above example wasn’t one of them.) The characters, the humor and the creepy atmosphere are the defining features of this novel. Unfortunately, the plot seems to be of secondary importance to Landy’s writing process. It’s fast-paced but it’s also predictable and full of clichés and cheesy villains. I thought it was bland and forgettable. Fortunately, this is something that can be fixed in future stories. I haven’t read any of them (there are eight full novels so far and four novellas) and I’m not going out of my way to find book two, but if it appears on sale at Audible, I might pick it up. Or I might not.

Most children and many adults will like Scepter of the Ancients a lot more than I did. Those who are enamored by the cool characters and creepy atmosphere are likely to forgive or not even notice the lackluster plot. I have a feeling that I’ve simply read too many fantasy novels to find this unique and I’ll bet there’s a negative correlation between how many fantasy novels a person has read and how well they like this book.

With all that said, I want to heap tons of praise on the audiobook version of Scepter of the Ancients. It was truly an excellent production with some original music and chilling sound effects between the chapters. Rupert Degas, the narrator, was brilliant. I loved his voice and his interpretation of the story. This book was worth my time mainly because of Rupert Degas. Audio readers, do not skip the interview with Skullduggery Pleasant at the end of the novel (you can listen to this here and it will give you a sense of how good the audio version is and whether or not you’re likely to enjoy the humor).

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Publisher: Meet Skulduggery Pleasant. Ace Detective. Snappy Dresser. Razor–tongued Wit. Crackerjack Sorcerer. and Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton. —as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented twelve-year-old. These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil. The end of the world? Over his dead body.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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