Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: The Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Series: Lockwood & Co. #1
Genre: Middle Grade, supernatural
Published on September 17, 2013
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 390
Read From: 10.1.14 - 10.4.14












SYNOPSIS
A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and Specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren't exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see - and eradicate - these supernatural foes. Many different psychic investigation agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business. 
In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co., a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall's legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

Review

Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love the cover art - character impersonators included (you can't see their faces, and anyway, they do look something like how I imagined Lucy and Lockwood). The cover is spooky and intriguing and awesome.


Characters: You know how when you just love absolutely everyone in a book, you don't even know where to begin in explaining why? That's where I'm at with the characters of The Screaming Staircase. They are all too wonderful and unique and awesome that I just want to fangirl. But I won't, because I am not a fangirl. Lucy Carlyle is everything a person could want in a female protagonist bound for supernatural adventures. She has nerves of steel, sarcasm, quick-wittedness, an ability to accept the abnormal and strange, and she's inquisitive and keeps her head on her shoulders. Lucy could not have been a better fit for this story; I really would love to be her (except I don't think I could do the ghost thing very well). Anthony Lockwood, meanwhile, reminds me of what Jackaby would have been like as a kid. I have no idea how old Lockwood is supposed to be; he's a kid still, but he acts quite a bit older. This is not a complaint. A personality like Lockwood's simply cannot be assigned an age. Lockwood takes care of his team, and he needs his team to take care of him, because he forgets to. He's a character of mystery, hilarious, and - well, just awesome. Is it wrong to have a Character Crush on a character who is probably most definitely younger than yourself? ;-) Let us not forget George! George was. . . .interesting. He wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I still loved him. He's the cautious, plan-first-action-later part of the team. He's also quirky in ways Lockwood and Lucy aren't, and they're quirks that you'll just have to read about, because I can't describe them.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: Something happened. No one knows what. But it was something big, and it's caused ghosts of every kind to spring up all around the U.K. The problem? The ghosts aren't typical nice ones, and they can kill people. Even worse, kids are the only ones who can see the specters, as they are much more sensitive to supernatural activity. Everywhere, businesses have sprung up specializing in exterminating troublesome specters, and the streets of any village - the more rich in history, the worse it is - have become dark, dangerous places. Lucy Carlyle, an especially ghost-sensitive girl, has come to London looking for a new place of employment. She eventually stumbles over Lockwood & Co., a business solely run by kids, with absolutely no adult supervision. After a series of not-very-smooth missions, including one that ends in their customer's house burning to the ground, Lockwood & Co. is experiencing a low time in their business. They are facing complete shutdown when a mysterious benefactor hires them to clear out the most haunted mansion in all of England. Many, much more prestigious, ghost hunting companies have tried to clear Combe Carey Hall, and they have all died in the attempt. Now, Lockwood, Lucy, and George must spend one night in the house and not only solve the mystery of the screaming staircase and the Red Room, but survive it as well. And their client isn't making it easy for them. For a Middle Grade novel, The Screaming Staircase was surprisingly creepy. It has a very healthy dose of humor - as only Jonathan Stroud can do it - and I was laughing as much as I was cowering under my blankets. From Chapter 1 to the very end, there are a lot of hair-raising, spooky moments that made me question whether or not I still needed a night light. These ghosts aren't your run-of-the-mill poltergeist (though they have a few of those, too). They are tortured souls bent on murder and revenge. Reading this book on a sunny day didn't even lessen its creepiness. The pacing itself worked really well. The first part of the book follows the present circumstances - which is an ongoing investigation that acts as catalyst for the preceding events. The next part flashes back to how Lucy came to be employed at Lockwood & Co., while also simultaneously giving a bit of history on the Problem. And then it flashes back to current circumstances. It did surprise me how long it took to get the actual Screaming Staircase. In fact, the Red Room seemed to be a bigger deal. But I promise you: the setup is all extremely important, not at all boring, and when you finally do get to the Screaming Staircase, it is so worth the wait.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. In both current circumstances and flashbacks. The Author has a very, very nice writing style; surprisingly sophisticated for Middle Grade stories. And it's very British, so if you're looking for that classic humor, you won't be disappointed. He's also amazingly good at creating the desired atmosphere for his book.

Content: Spooky ghosts and manifestations. Yes, some of it is disturbing and dark and really, really creepy.

Conclusion: The climax totally delivers. Including a villain! Who, yes, monologues, but you know what - it somehow amazingly worked really well. I cannot wait to see what Book #2 brings - especially with the hints and foreshadowing this book ended with. The Screaming Staircase was a faith-buy - I have never read Jonathan Stroud (though I do have almost all of the Bartimaeus books) and I knew nothing about this book, other than it sounded interesting. So glad I went with my instincts, because it was amazing! Funny and well developed, awesome characters and a totally spooky atmosphere. It's one of my new faves!

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, twelve-and-up, fans of supernatural mysteries and British authors.

Others in the Lockwood & Co. Series:
1)The Screaming Staircase
2)The Whispering Skull

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