September 26, 2013

Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Release Date: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Page Count: 400
Source: ARC from BEA
Rating: A terrifying, thrilling, fantastic start to a new, ghostly series.
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in...

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again...

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

Lucy Carlyle (our narrator) is just a kid - barely a teen. Yet she and other kids just like her are running around London hunting down these scary, malicious ghosts that have been popping up all over London. Now, these kids are doing the hunting and vanquishing because they're the only ones who can see, hear or sense these ghosts. Because of this, kids are finding employment with agencies. There are big agencies with adult supervisors and then there are smaller agencies that are run solely by the kids. Lockwood & Co., made up of Lockwood, George and Lucy, is one such agency. This book/series is about the trials and troubles of that agency.

Let's break this down:

I'm just going to put this out there now: the big mystery of this book is pretty easy to call out by the middle of the book. But, well, everything else about this book was just so, so, so fantastic that I really just don't even care. 

The structure of this book really surprised me (which I guess balances out the lack of surprise plot-wise). I think it's because I didn't realize when I started that Lucy would be our narrator - even though I ended up totally falling into it and loving her. I also thought the big mystery of this book would be the Screaming Staircase. But it wasn't. I don't know if that's a spoiler. I don't think so. But yeah. The Screaming Staircase is definitely a big scary part of this book, but that's not the focal point.

I also found Lockwood's disposition surprising - in a really good way. He's the classic cocky, in charge character, but with a subtle, mysterious chip on his shoulder in a really non-cliche way. We don't really know his deal because we're in Lucy's head for the entirety of the book, but what she does see and what she does know make Lockwood out to be a brain I'd love to pick. I'm really curious to see how his character fills out throughout the series. 

George is also a curious kid. Lucy outwardly hates him and I have no idea where he comes from or what his story is. And yet I like him. He's studious, does his research and wants everyone to be safe.I can admire that kind of dedication in a kid. I also admire how Jonathan Stroud makes me adore a character even though the narrator really doesn't. 

Lucy herself has an interesting story. She doesn't even trust herself at the start of the book, so I found it kind of fascinating to watch her figure all of that out from inside her head. She also only meets the George and Lockwood 6 months before the book starts, so I loved getting to know the other members of Lockwood & Co. through fresh eyes.

Basically, the dynamic these kids create is awesome. It's different and exciting. No one's best friends, no one's falling in love. There's no instant clicking and everything's kind of uneasy at best. Each kid is just trying to figure out what the heck they're supposed to be doing now that all these ghosts are messing up what it's like to be a kid - to have to protect the adults instead of the adults having to protect the kids.

And that's really the question of this book, in my opinion. These kids have all this power and have to solve all these big real life problems for themselves. Yeah, an adult can offer advice (even though they really, really don't in this book), but it's ultimately up to the people - the kids - who can actually see the ghosts to do the actual acting. It's honestly amazing to me that these 13-15 year-olds can function at all. I know I wouldn't be able to rise to the challenge when I was their age. 

I haven't really mentioned anything about the plot. I mentioned that the major mystery is kind of predictable. But everything else is major scary and very dark. There's all this death and murder and truly angry, malicious spirits. It's almost like an episode of Doctor Who. And maybe some Ghost Busters. But the scary bits, no humor. The book also reminded me a little of Meg Cabot's Mediator series. The kids are younger and there are no hot ghosts to love, but I feel like the danger level is crazy similar. 

As you guys can tell, I really love this one and have a lot of thoughts. But the thought I'll stop with is more of a hope: I'm pretty sure there are going to be more books in this series and I sincerely hope there are at least two more - one from Lockwood's POV and one from George's. As much as I love Lucy's perspective on things, I'd love to get to know Lockwood and George as I've gotten to know Lucy.

The long and short of it?

Plot: A very scary, exciting mystery that reminds me of so many of my favorites in the best way possible.
World Building: I don't know why there are so many ghosts. But this is a series and that's the big, series mystery. So. I guess it's good that I don't know. Therefore: check yes for excellent world-building.
Character Development: I really got to know Lucy and loved watching her learn how to trust herself again. And even though I didn't get a chance to poke into Lockwood and George's minds, I know there's a lot there and I can't wait to get to know them better.
Prose: Delightfully creepy.
Would I Recommend This Book?: Do you love ghosts and mysteries? Scary things? London? How about teens who kick butt and still feel and think like teens do? Just to be fair, though, this book's a little more Middle Grade than YA. But as someone who generally sticks with YA and loved this book, you shouldn't be too worried about that.

Feeling like taking a stroll into Middle Grade land? Maybe you're just here for the ghosts. Either way, let me know what you think of this exciting new ghost story in the comments below!