I love fantasy novels that take the main character on a quest, a classic search to solve a mystery and find something out about themselves as well. Derek Landy's novel, Skullduggery Pleasant, The Scepter of the Ancients does this with plenty of action and humor. On top of this, the audio version is perfect - absolutely engaging and exciting.
Scepter of the Ancients, Skulduggery Pleasant Book 1Twelve-year old Stephanie Edgely lives a fairly uneventful life in a small town in Ireland, until her uncle dies, leaving most of his wealth and estate to her. At the reading of his will, Stephanie meets her uncles friend, Skulduggery Pleasant. Something was different about him, but she couldn't say just what. On her first visit to his home, she is attacked by a man wanting a key - but just as he has her in a choke-hold, Skulduggery bursts in and fights him off. Stephanie and Skulduggery enter into a battle against the powers of evil, trying to find the scepter of the ancients before the evil Nefarian Serpine does.
by Derek Landy
NY: HarperCollins, 2007. 416 pages.
also available in CD and audiodownload.
ages 10 - 14
Skulduggery is the perfect ally. He has a very dry wit, is an ace detective with hundreds of years of experience, and he can throw fireballs from his bare hands. But, he's also a skeleton. A skeleton who's a snappy dresser, but still, a skeleton.
The audiobook is wonderful - I would highly recommend it. Really, get the audiobook for this. It's read by Rupert Tween, who does all the voices pitch-perfect, in an Irish accent that makes me want to melt. He brings the magical caste alive, making Stephanie really sound like a tween Irish girl, and Skulduggery a dry, witty detective. On top of this, there's the great sound track, full of finger snaps, distant screams and drumming percussion.
As for the title, it was re-released in paperback in the U.S. last month (April 2009), under the title The Scepter of the Ancients. Personally, I like the original cover art much better. Just so you don't get confused, some libraries will call the first volume Skulduggery Pleasant, and others will call it The Scepter of the Ancients. The second volume in the series is Playing with Fire. The third installment, The Faceless Ones, will come out this summer.
This is a great choice for kids who loved Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson series. It does have some scary scenes and lots of fighting - but I don't think it was too gruesome, just action-packed. I think kids in 5th through 8th grade will really enjoy it, quite possibly 4th graders too.
Find it at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library. You can buy it at your local independent bookstore (it's in paperback!) or at Amazon.
Many thanks to the review by My Neighborhood Librarian to the suggestion!
This review was written by Mary Ann Scheuer for Great Kid Books. Copyright Great Kid Books, 2009.