Inheriting a large estate is hardly compensation for losing a favorite uncle, and the fact that someone tries to murder Stephanie on her first night in her uncle's house is hardly an auspicious sign. Stephanie does not have to fend off fiendish bad guys alone, however; she also seems to have inherited allies. Her most important new ally is Skulduggery Pleasant, a brilliant detective who is also a living skeleton. Together, they embark on a quest to save the world by finding an evil artifact before the extremely creepy and powerful Serpine gets his hands on it, using it to pave the way toward his domination over both the magical and mundane worlds. Along the way, Stephanie discovers that her genetic history ties her to powerful magic; if she can live long enough to develop her skills and learn from the incredible sorcerers around her, her talents may be limitless. Landy offers a sizable cast of characters, all of whom have impressive depth: Skulduggery, heroic and undeniably admirable, is tortured by a less than honorable past, and even the insidious Serpine shows vulnerability. The result is a rich fantasy that is as engaging in its creative protagonists and villains as it is in the lightning-paced plot and sharp humor. Kids may not have Stephanie's opportunity to pursue detective work with skeletons or epic [End Page 426] battles with monsters, but they'll read in vicarious enjoyment of this adventure; a significant thread about the power of chosen names versus given names (Stephanie eventually chooses Valkyrie Cain as her new name and therefore becomes immune to hypnotic suggestions by other sorcerers) may lead some readers to seek a bit of magic through claiming their own otherworldly monikers.