I don’t know what took me so long to read this book (other than I’m really backed up with Advanced Reading Copies), but now that I’ve read it, I can’t wait to dig in to book number two (which just recently appeared in my ARC queue).
Author Jonathan Stroud has created an alternate England that is so real, so believable that it was easy to get caught up in the characters and the story because the world seemed so ‘right.’ And his take on ghosts is incredibly original and terribly frightening!
The countryside is plagued with “visitors” — ghosts that haunt, terrify, and kill anyone in their path. The living stay indoors after dark but even homes are not always safe. Combatting the ghosts are trained investigators, people with special abilities in detecting the fiends. Lucy Carlyle, a young girl, is one such investigator. After a horrible experience with her mentor, who failed to heed her advice and cost the lives of a team of investigators, Lucy heads to the big city where she joins Lockwood & Co., a Psychic Investigation Agency run by Anthony Lockwood and his associate George Cubbins, young adults such as herself.
After a particularly poor decision in ghost hunting, which resulted in the destruction of a customer’s home, Lockwood & Co., are on the verge of being forced out of business and the bad publicity has other cases leaving for other agencies. When a major case by one of the largest manufacturers of ghost-fighting equipment, in the most haunted house in all of England comes to them, they have no choice but to take it. But it will challenge them beyond their expectations, and even ghost hunters who typically don’t fear their foe, will struggle just to survive.
I loved, absolutely loved, the presentation of the ghosts. Stroud has done for ghosts what Anne Rice did for vampires, Bruce Coville did for unicorns, and The Walking Dead did for zombies. Fearsome, gruesome, and deadly he has put the term ‘haunted’ back into the genre! And it worked! It was so believable I was sure that it had always been this way. He has created the new norm for ghosts. He has also created the means to combat, control, and rid the world of ghosts (iron, salt, and magnesium flares) which works exceptionally well under controlled circumstances.
So I loved the set-up and the establishing of a new world order for ghosts, but I also loved the characters. Not only are Lucy, Lockwood, and Cubbins fun characters (just a little bit stereotypical for a YA book), they all hold a few secrets which is appropriate and adds an air of mystery about them, but they also all grow. How often do you see character growth in YA fantasy? Too often it’s about action and adventure and CTPP (“Cool Things Per Page” [thanks, Bruce Coville]). But character growth is what will keep the reader coming back.
The book also has the perfect blend of humor and horror. The humor comes from the characters and the horror comes from the situations. I love a good horror story and it’s been awhile since I read one in which the horror really had me uncomfortable. The sequence in the Red Room, beginning the climax of the book, was terrific! I couldn’t believe this book was targeted at a YA readership given how frightening this story was!
And though it’s part of a series, and the second book is clearly set-up at the end of this adventure. It is a self-contained story, and I really appreciate that.
This is a remarkable read and I will encourage it to anyone interested in fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, or just well-written YA fiction.
Looking for a good book? Lockwood & Co. book #1, The Screaming Staircase is a fantasy/horror, young adult book that is excellently written, with fantastic characters, and establishes a new ‘norm’ for ghost hauntings. It is highly recommended.
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The Screaming Staircase
author: Jonathan Stroud
series: Lockwood & Co. #1
hardcover, 390 pages