Friday, October 14, 2016

Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Reviewed by Ambrea

London has a terrible problem on its plate:  ghosts.  In recent years since the Problem arose, all manner of haunts, spirits, specters, ghosts and ghouls have popped up across the country—and their touch is absolutely deadly.  Only young people have the psychic abilities to see and eradicate these supernatural creatures, and many psychic investigation agencies—many of them populated by children with these unique gifts—have appeared to handle the dangerous, often-deadly work of destroying these restless spirits.

Together with Anthony Lockwood, leader of the motley Lockwood & Co., George Cubbins, Lucy Carlyle uses her talents to protect vulnerable adults and put ghosts away.  But after a grisly discovery leads to a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and George are forced to take part in a perilous investigation at Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England, if they hope to save Lockwood & Co.—that is, if they can survive the night.

Like Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series, Lockwood & Co. is an intriguing and inventive series with fleshed out characters, a wonderfully charismatic narrator, interesting plot twists, and a curious mixture of myth, magic, and paranormal critters.  Although it took me a couple of chapters to fully sink into The Screaming Staircase, I was hooked by the end of their first assignment—and I thoroughly enjoyed following the cases of Lucy, Anthony, and George as they struggled to recoup their losses and survive another day.

Speaking of Lucy, I’ve found she makes a wonderful narrator.  She’s snarky and sarcastic, equal parts entertaining and fascinating as readers plumb the depths of her abilities and learn of her history.  Like her colleagues, Anthony and George, Lucy can see and sense ghosts; however, she has a singularly special talent that sets her apart:  she can hear and communicate with ghosts, as well.  Her powerful talents and her unusual sensitivity to ghosts make her unique, even among her peers, but it also makes her an intriguing narrator.

Moreover, I was constantly struck by the inventiveness of Stroud’s novel and the series as a whole.  It thought the “ghost-touch” was an interesting concept (and, admittedly, rather frightening), and I was fascinated by the whole mythos surrounding ghosts.  It’s interest to see the ways in which society adapts to accommodate ghosts and all the dangers they present, to see the dynamics of society shift as children become embroiled in the conflict and become key figures in protecting the living.

I suppose I should confess, however, that I do not actually like ghosts.

For some reason, the concept of ghosts freaks me out, so much so that I simply can’t watch The Poltergeist or Paranormal Activity—or, heaven forbid, It—without spending the rest of my evening prancing around like a frightened cat.  And, while The Screaming Staircase is fairly mild, I still found it eerie, unsettling, and, confidentially, a little bit frightening.

Maybe, it’s because I don’t like ghosts; maybe, it’s because I’m susceptible to frightful things; maybe, it’s because Stroud is such an excellent writer that he has a way of conveying a proper sense of horror and describing terrifying things.  Either way, I frequently found myself reading during the daylight hours and flipping all the lights on in my bedroom to combat the eerie feelings of impending doom.

Note: Since it 'tis the season, we'll be running more posts featuring books or films with a bit of shiver to them.  This is our version of a Halloween treat!

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