I totally adore Skulduggery Pleasant.
The protagonist, Stephanie Edgley, is twelve, but she's a very unique twelve-year-old. The writing is relatively simple, but the ideas are relatively tough. That means it can really appeal to everyone, right? Stephanie discovers after her Uncle Gordon's funeral that he was more than he seemed, and at that same funeral she meets Skulduggery Pleasant, a very thin gentleman... This is one of those rare finds in which I loved ALL of the characters, couldn't predict the twists and turns, and couldn't be distracted from the book for more than ten seconds.
Skulduggery has to be my favorite character. He's mysterious, suave, and otherworldly, while he's also very urbane and utterly hilarious. But Stephanie is a close second. She's practically my Mary Sue, in a really good way... Well, more like she's the character I always want authors to write but never receive. She's smart and brave, but she still struggles. She's twelve, but she still needs help from the adults (weird "but," I know.) She wishes for magic, and she's actually EXCITED when she gets it!
The magic and world are built on old themes, but the usages are fresh and new. It's written for kids and I know they'll love it, there's plenty of action and humor, but the subtleties were enough to blow my mind and give me things to chew over. The plot twists weren't the same old "surprises" I was expecting, but nothing was random or haphazard about the way it was put together.
Altogether this was a real treat for me, and I can't wait to read the sequel, Playing With Fire. My sister, the YA one, has read both books and says the second is just as fantastic as the first.
This is often billed as a Potter alternative, but that just means it's an urban fantasy book for kids... It reminds me a lot more of The Dresden Files for kids, or The Nightmare Before Christmas, with maybe even a hint of Zorgamazoo...
Buy Scepter of the Ancients