Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy.
Stephanie’s beloved uncle has died and left his old house to her. While she is there alone one night, someone tries to break in and kill her for a key. The strange man she noticed at the funeral and at the reading of the will shows up and rescues her by shooting fire from his hands. When his disguise slips off, she realizes he is a living skeleton. (See cover image.) Stephanie is drawn into a hidden world of magic, fantasy and a mystery that could destroy everything, and finds it impossible to return to her normal life of a 12-year-old girl.
Landy has reinvented fantasy, turned it on its head, and created something entirely engaging, unique and marvelous. Skulduggery Pleasant is a complex hero, filled with caustic wit, who is the perfect lens through which the readers and Stephanie can discover the fantasy world. Stephanie is a protagonist with real guts and bravery, who doesn’t consider herself anything special. She is a refreshing female character, who is not overly girly or overly tomboy, but a regular girl who is thrilled to be on an adventure.
The fantasy world that Landy has created is inventive and original, but still hearkens back to more traditional stories. One good example of this are the vampires who are night security guards. Landy has taken their original details, kept what he needed and discarded the rest. In essence, he has reinvented vampires, shifting even the most embedded facts of their legends. This demonstrates his skill as an author, because nothing is sacred or unchangeable in this novel.
Recommend this to middle schoolers who enjoy a book with a good amount of violence. And remember, despite the fantasy setting, this violence reads as dramatically real. This is not cartoon violence that younger good readers should be reading. I would also recommend it to preteens and teens looking for a good, original fantasy novel. Any kids who enjoyed The Last Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney or Monster Blood Tattoo by DM Cornish will enjoy this one.