Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Somehow when I was growing up I managed to miss the Bartimaeus series by Mr Stroud, something which I’ve been meaning to rectify for years. I mean, that series has had nothing but good reviews, how did I miss it?!

Fortunately though, I managed to get a proof copy of this, the first in a new series following Lockwood & Co, The Screaming Staircase. Suffice to say, the first has barely got it’s toes wet in the publishing water and I already want the second one in the series!

Publisher: Doubleday Children’s Books ISBN: 9780857532015 Published: 29/8/2013

The country has a big problem. The dead no longer stay safely dead, confined to graveyards and burial sites. Now some of them have come back and the country is fast facing a ghostly epidemic. For the last fifty odd years ghosts have been increasing in number and so far the only defence the living have against them is in the form of Psychic Investigations Agencies; chidlren with an aptitude for the specialist skills needed to catch and banish ghosts. Adults are defenceless as it’s only in youth that you can possibly have these natural talents. Enter Lucy, the heroine of our story, who has just moved to London in hopes of joining one of the big name Agencies. Unfortunately she finds herself joining the most downtrodden one possible, consisting of the charming but enigmatic Anthony (don’t call him Tony) Lockwood and an overeager researcher with a penchant for donuts called George. After a case of theirs goes horribly wrong (think Godzilla, and that’s about the level of wrongness we’re talking about), Lockwood & Co have to prove themselves and earn the dosh they need to keep their little team going and the only way it seems they can do that is to spend a night in a house. Not just any house, oh no, just the most haunted house in England and, oh yes, while they’re at it, try to stay alive…

Ok, you’ve probably noticed things have been rather quiet on BooKa’s Nook recently. I was going through a spot of reading bother where just nothing was grabbing me. Nothing, zip, zilch, nada, it was TERRIBLE I tell you. Just awful. I’m the kind of person who, when she visits the doctor, they have seriously asked me before ‘Are you still reading?’ as part of their diagnosis. If BooKa’s not reading, something’s wrong. Like I said, I couldn’t find anything to read though, kidlit or adult, nothing. Things couldn’t have felt more skewiff if I’d tried. Life felt off kilter, it was very disconcerting.

And then I picked up Lockwood & Co. An enormous black proof copy with grey writing for the title – it didn’t stand out too much. But I was desperate to find something anything that would grab me and this was next on the pile, so I opened it up and….. oh, the relief! For a few blissful hours I was right there behind Lucy as she met Lockwood for the first time, as she bantered with the (occasionally) repellant George, I cowered behind the duvet as she encountered my first ghost of the night and.. ohhh… it was just glorious to finallly find a really great read to drop into again! It felt like a raindrop dropping into a puddle, I was just in the zone, so to speak (can you tell I liked the book?).

Ok, you’re thinking, so BooKa had a bit of a happy, got thoroughly overexcited about a book after a patch of literary drought. This probably means this review will be her overegging it a bit just because it got her out of a bad spot. Not at all, I say, not at all! I like to think I’m a more honest reviewer than that and when I give praise I mean to give praise and Lockwood & Co deserves a bucketload of it.

So what exactly did I love about it? Well, for starters Lucy is a great heroine. She’s feisty (but not too feisty so as to be aggressive), she makes mistakes (so she’s human) and she’s self-assured (but not arrogant). She’s more than just The Girl, she’s got more to her than that. I especially loved that she was the silmuntaneously the most sensitive and vulnerable to atack of the three Agents, but also had the (potentially) most powerful gift when it comes to ghost-hunting. In short, she was a fantastic character to introduce you to the shabby and eccentric world of Lockwood & Co.

The enigmatic Lockwood was also a bit of a delight and does have a hint of Sherlock Holmes about him, what with the oddities strewn about his house and his habit of holding secrets close to his chest. I liked his air of mystery and the sense that you were getting most of the truth when you spoke to him, minus a key fact or two. Granted, I wouldn’t want to be kept in the dark about him for much longer or he’d risk crossing over from enigmatic to annoying, but right now he’s a puzzle and I love the banter that flows not just between him and Lucy, but also between Lockwood and George too. George is the one who grew on me as the book went on, as it became more obvious exactly what his role to play was – he’s not one of the rapier-wielding Agents with pyschic powers and ghostly senses, but he’s the researcher. He’s the guy who gives the rapier-wielding swashbucklers and ghost-hunting Lucy and Lockwood the information they need to go in prepared and as a budding librarian, I kind of have to like him for that.

One other thing I liked about Lockwood – his sense of independance. He really wants to prove that unlike other Agenices that are always supervised by an adult (even though the kids are the ones who can actually detect the ghosts), Lockwood is perfectly responsible and does not need an adult to supervise his team and run the show. This has got to resonate with teen and tweens who’ll be reading this. After all, what teenager doesn’t think that they can handle things without adult supervision? I just thought it was a nice touch, a little added cherry on top for Lockwood and a neat building block in his character.

This is a ghost story though so I’m sure you’re curious – just how spooky is it? Well, I’m not especially brave when it comes to ghost stories and I have to say that whilst I did find it spectacularly spooky and downright creepy towards the end, this is not a book that’ll have you reaching for the duvet to hide behind every five minutes. It balances out very nicely, although I’d have to say if you want a level of spookiness I would place this at higher end of 9-12. Some of the later chapters are of the sort of level I’d expect to see in some of the more recent Skulduggery Pleasant books because of their content, put it that way. So, not neccessarily for younger 9-12 then (although as always, it depends on the who’s doing the reading of course).

I’ll finish the way I started – very enthusiastically. This book got me out of a reading ditch and I’m grateful to it for that, but it goes beyond just being grateful to it. This is a marvellous read with characters I fast grew to love and a way of just dropping you into the story. I want the second one right now and this one has only just been published! Needless to say, I will now be moving Stroud’s Bartimaeus series further up my To Read List as well. The proof of Lockwood & Co that I received is now one of the few proofs I’ve kept, I really don’t want to be without it sitting my shelves for the next time I need a fantastic read to set the world to rights. Just awesome.

Find Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase here. The video trailer is here and an interview with the lovely Mr Stroud here. Find even more videos of Mr Stroud and about Lockwood and Co here, here, here, oh! and here, here, and finally, here.

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