by Jonathan Stroud
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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 . . .
Why an experiment? To be honest, I wasn’t accustomed to discriminating Middle-Grade and Young Adult novels back when I read in French. WHY? This would be because they’re similarly advertised (when in hardbacks) – and don’t get me started about the New Adult ones which are blended with them : frankly, I applause all the parents who’re trying to make some sense of the way books are sold to their teenagers. I mean it. You guys are so brave.
Anyway, my point is that I stopped reading Middle-Grade novels around the time I started experiencing books in English, running far away each time I saw the “children” shelf. Doing that, 1) I was missing out on some amazing stories, and 2) I couldn’t properly recommend books to young teenagers (my older pupils, for example).
That’s why I decided to stop narrowing my possibilities – and here I am, reading The Screaming Staircase. No need to say that I don’t regret a second of my read.
Alternative history is starting to become one of my favorite world-building tropes. How is London different? Basically, the dead decided that to rest in peace was way too boring, and started to wander the earth after dark : first they are many, second they’re more dangerous (they have the power to kill you in a blue painful death – yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds).
Jonathan Stroud‘s trick lies in the fact that only children and teenagers can sense them fully and then, fight them. I really like this idea because this way we don’t have to suspend our disbelief about the odds of teenagers investigating, and it constitutes an awesome premise in my opinion.
Plot wise, what we get here is a murder mystery… Annabel (don’t you think this is the most beautiful name of the world? Huh?) was a young socialite in the 60s when she brutally disappeared… until Lockwood and Co find her again during a fucked up mission.
SPOILER ALERT : She was dead.
This is precisely where the shoe pinches : PREDICTABILITY. Indeed I figured the mystery out pretty fast, and the ending confirmed everything I thought. Is it a fail, then?
No. I did guess what will happen around 50-60%, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying my read, and to be fair, I still think that it was well-crafted for a MG, way darker and grittier than I would have at first imagined.
Anyway – despite my tendency to turn into some Nancy Drew, the story was still completely addictive. No need to say more.
If there’s still room for further improvement, for example when it comes to the depth of the characters, I grew attached to them and felt connected, which is not a sure thing in many books. Not to mention that since it’s a series, I can completely nurture the hope that they will be (more) developed.
In a word, if the characterization isn’t flawless, the author made me love his characters (all right, with a soft spot for Lockwood) and they’re FULL of potential in my opinion.
First of all, Lucy is a strong female lead, kickass but acknowledging her fears, in other words, my favorite kind. Her inner thoughts gave me several genuine and unexpected laughs (the best kind in my opinion) and I really appreciated the fact that she was never seen as the “weak” member of the team.
As for George, his nerdness and… hmm… weirdness is smile-inducing, I have to admit.
And last but not least : Lockwood! God, I love his sarcastic (but never mean) mind and his secretive personality. In my opinion characters are winners when 1)they feel real and 2)they make the readers want to know MORE about them, not because they’re one dimensional, but because what we do know is already fascinating. Yet he did annoy me when he started to keep his discoveries and hypothesis to himself : YOU ARE PART OF A TEAM, DUDE. Just don’t forget it. Sigh. I’m willing to forgive him, though, but do not do this anymore, okay?
But most of all I fell in love with the characters’ dynamics playing out in the ghosts hunting team : I genuinely think that we have never enough books where friendship is well-portrayed, especially when aiming a younger audience.
We need to talk about the scary scenes. Okay. I know what you think. Anna. You’re such a pussy.
Annnd you might be right. But. But. But. I didn’t imagine the way my heart pounded at some scenes. I’m not delusional. It did happen, and for me, it’s everything I need to know when dealing with a ghost story. Did I feel oppressed? YES. WELL DONE.
Let me get this straight : I wasn’t scared TO DEATH, but it did let me… What’s the word… Spooky? Jumpy? Now, what you need to know is that I grew up in a house where basically everyone believed in ghosts to a certain extend (not me, though – I’m the cynical of the bunch). My mother most of all. SO, MUM, THIS IS TOTALLY YOUR FAULT.
Also, in this world when there are ghosts there are spiders as well. Fucking SPIDERS. Will the nightmare never end??? *shivers*
There’s no denying that this book is incredibly well-written, and the narration surprisingly GREAT. Really, I am genuinely impressed by the writing and despite being MG, the characters hardly feel more juvenile than YA ones even if they are around 13? 14? 15? (What? I got lost at some point)
Not to mention that the dialogues made me smile more often than not. Think banter. Sarcasm.
► All in all, a really good introduction to this series, and I can hardly wait to read the sequel.