Goodreads: The Screaming Staircase
Series: Lockwood & Co. #1
Fifty years ago, the dead stopped staying dead. An entire industry has sprung up with the purpose of eradicating the ghosts that can not only drive people mad but also kill them. Only children, however, have the ability to see and hear the specters and only one agency works without any adult supervision—Lockwood & Co. As a result, the company has a poor reputation, but when a rich patron offers Lockwood one of the biggest cases in the nation, their future seems assured. That is, if they can survive the ghosts of the infamous Screaming Staircase.
The media seems a little oversaturated with the supernatural right now and I admit I wondered when I picked up The Screaming Staircase whether anyone really needed yet another story about professional ghost hunters. Jonathan Stroud’s name reassured me, however, and I went ahead and took the plunge. Now I’m only upset because I have to wait until next year for the sequel.
The Screaming Staircase is one of the most engrossing middle-grade books I have read in a long time. The story grabs readers from the start, introducing them to a modern-day Britain both familiar and strange. Strange, of course, because of the normality of ghosts walking about the living, but also because modern conveniences such as cell phones do not seem to exist. The blend reminds me a little of Harry Potter—readers can situate themselves in a world they recognize as their own, but increased danger arises from the lack of immediate access to information and to other people.
Lucy Carlyle, the narrator of the story, will no doubt charm readers, too. She is spunky and bold, but not deficient of common sense. She acts when she needs to, but also retreats when she needs to. Seeing someone make smart decisions in books can sometimes seem rare (especially when the supernatural is involved), so watching events unfold through her eyes proves a real treat. Her character is also a testament to Stroud’s skill—he does not need to rely on nonsensical choices to drive his plot.
Lucy also provides the perfect counterpart to the more dashing and reckless Anthony Lockwood. Rich and slightly mysterious, he might seem like a character readers have met before. Stroud, however, makes Lockwood his own man. He proves likable and funny, a good person to have at your side while fighting ghosts, but also a good friend. I cannot be the only reader hoping for a future romance in this direction.
Rounding out Lockwood & Co. is the slightly overlooked George Cubbins. He does not normally fight ghosts, instead doing research for the group, so the book cover skims a little over his existence. The book, however, would not be the same without him. Slightly weird and slightly unkempt, George grounds the trio in real normalcy. He insists that the group share baked goods equally, provides the catalyst for everyday squabbles over things like the state of the bathroom, and yells at Lockwood when he makes stupid decisions. If anything makes the world of Lockwood & Co. seem real, it is George. He’s like that old roommate you’ve heard tell of.
Some readers, of course, might be hesitant to pick up a book focused on ghosts, especially one that posits their existence in the same world in which readers live. I admit that ghost stories scare me and I usually shy away from anything that looks like it will keep me up all night. However, I actually read The Screaming Staircase alone in my room with the main light off sometime after midnight. The difference for me between this book and something like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is the nature of the ghosts. They can drive people mad, but their main threat is physical, meaning that not only can you fight them and contain them but also that you can run from them.
The Screaming Staircase is a thrilling start to a new series sure to delight fans not only of Jonathan Stroud and but also of middle-grade fantasy and urban fantasy. Fast-paced and full of action, it draws readers into its richly-drawn world so tightly that they may not want to leave.