Goodreads: The Whispering Skull
Series: Lockwood & Co. #2
In Lucy Carlyle’s world ,the dead stopped staying dead fifty years ago. The phenomenon is known as the “Problem” and an industry of child warriors has sprung up to fight and contain the ghosts that can drive people mad or even kill them. Lucy is an agent with the somewhat famous, somewhat disreputable Lockwood & Co., the only agency not supervised by adults (who have no ability to see or hear the dead). Famous since their success with the notorious Screaming Staircase. Disreputable because of their lack of adult leaders. Even so, things are looking up for the agency until Lockwood makes a bet with their rivals in the Fittes agency–the next time the two groups share a case, the one who does not solve it first has to advertise their inferiority in the newspaper. Soon enough the two agencies are both on the hunt for a dangerous supernatural artifact, but will Lockwood & Co. be able to find it before the whispering skull in their possession turns them against one another?
The Whispering Skull delivers all the fast-paced excitement and mystery one would expect after having read the first installment, but offers a story uniquely its own. Rather than provide a repeat of the first book, another investigation of a local haunting, The Whispering Skull delves even deeper into Stroud’s alternative world, beginning to probe the origins of the “Problem” and the sometimes strange responses to it, such as the cults that sprang up to worship relics that bring them visitors from the other side, visitors who could, in theory, solve the riddle of death. Philosophical questions about the nature of knowledge and the extent to which humanity should dare to probe the unknown combine with a gripping race to save London from imminent destruction to create a story that stands out as one of the more original and exciting middle grade reads this year.
Lucy Carlyle returns as our perceptive narrator, one who can immediately draw sympathy from the reader through her determination, sense of humor, and sound common sense. Though she fights life-threatening entities on a regular basis, she seems so ordinary, like the type of girl with whom you could have gone to school. Perhaps it is her refreshing ability to sift out what matters from what does not that makes her so compelling. Other protagonists would have succumbed to the types of mind games that turn heroes against one another. Lucy holds her friends too dear to fall for any of that nonsense. She’s the type of character you’ve always wanted in your horror stories. She doesn’t find adventure because she’s stupid but despite the fact that she tries so hard to do everything right.
Unfortunately, despite hints of an attraction between Lucy and Lockwood (well, at least we know Lucy’s definitely crushing on her boss), Lockwood receives little character development in this installment, other than some vague references to the secrets he keeps. Instead the focus turns to George Cubbins, the type of character other stories tend to forget: overweight, myopic, not very clean, and incredibly excited about doing research. He could have been a caricature, but Stroud treats him with sympathy and respect, allowing readers to catch a bit of his enthusiasm for history and to begin to understand what makes him tick. Previously George seemed just like your ordinary weird roommate, but The Whispering Statue lets him shine. How wonderful to see him taken seriously.
The characters really drive the story for me, though, of course, Stroud also creates a highly original and compelling world, one that offers seemingly endless fascinations and mysteries. The race to recover a dangerous supernatural artifact is only one factor that makes this story so gripping. Entwined with the main plot are the beginnings (presumably) of the next book’s story–the cults who trade in relics of the dead in hopes of discovering the afterlife. Clearly everything the agencies thought they knew about confronting the Problem is about to come tumbling down, but I, for one, am ready. Our heroes so far have shown an incredible devotion to doing the right thing despite enormous temptation and it is always a pleasure to be able to get behind a protagonist unconflicted about morality.
The Whispering Skull is an impressive addition to the Lockwood & Co. series, expertly managing to avoid the infamous sequel slump while simultaneously laying the groundwork for what promises to be another exciting adventure. The next book cannot be released too soon.