The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud: Book Review

Genre: Middle Grade, Dystopian, Paranormal
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Series: Lockwood and Co. #1
Date Published: August 2013
Publisher: RHCP Digital
Edition: 1st eBook ed.
ISBN: 9781448121786

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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...


I think that everything's kind of predictable here but it still didn't fail to surprise me. I mean, it's so well written that I enjoyed everything (except perhaps the beginning). I still have the adrenaline rush as I kept waiting as to how the characters would undertake what I had anticipated they'd do.

Lockwood and Co. is a story set in a dystopian world wherein when people die, instead of turning into zombies (like The Walking Dead), they turn into haunting ghosts. Here, ghosts are called Visitors. Apocalypse is called the Problem. When it comes to the weaknesses of ghosts, the three principal defenses, in order of effectiveness, are silver, iron and salt. It's funny how a ghost's weakness is just like that of a vampire like silver and running water. In the story, perhaps Ironman will be the only one unfazed... no ghost will ever care to bother him.

The story is told in the perspective of Lucy Carlyle. I'm not sure how old she is but I think it ranges from 12 to 16. To me, everything about her is natural or just right. She claims to be growing tall but not pretty. Others think she has amazing talents but she never gets it in her head. She's one headstrong girl and she's definitely one of the few girls I like in books.

I imagine the things in this book are very exciting for a teenager. As an adult, I almost don't know what's exciting anymore (when it comes to books of this genre). You sort of know so many things that it's almost as if there's no room for imagination anymore. While others may have a brow raised upon knowing that the protagonists here are barely of legal age, I agree with the author that when it comes to the otherly entities, kids are the most sensitive. As you age, you lose bits of your psychical abilities.

So it's just very fitting that Lucy Carlyle, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins are just mere teenagers. In the story, kids who are discovered to have psychic abilities called the Talent are trained early on. Even at age 8, they could be employed by big Psychical Companies.

I've read lots of metaphysical books that claimed to be accounts of what's really happening in the real world— things involving chakra, the astral realm and the like. I also read some summaries of research journals dealing with parapsychology and dreams, and books of spirit manifestations as studied by scientists. So I'm quite amazed as to how the author was able to put together the things he deemed exist in this world when spirits do haunt. Jonathan Stroud really does know the genre. But don't get me wrong, this book is still very fictional— in the real world, you can't die with a ghost's touch nor will (this one's debatable) ghosts leave ectoplasms in the vicinities they plague about.

Oddly enough, this book is like a novel version of Japan's famous radio drama in the 70s that turned into a manga and then into animation, Ghost Hunt except that Ghost Hunt is more fluid and sensible when in comes to the stories, and the characters there are more mature. But they do have the same feel. For those who can relate, the things that are happening in this book are comparable to two cases undertaken by agents of Ghost Hunt.

The beginning of the book sounds too amateurish and ambitious to me but the transitions are awesome that I never thought that I would really enjoy this book as contrary to when I read the first few pages. Maybe some books sell when the beginning jumps straight into action but in my opinion, it just didn't work here. Yes, the transition is great. But that's only because the past has a great story to tell. I think it would have been better if Jonathan Stroud had just started there instead of starting the story the way he did and going into flashback, more flashbacks before returning to the present. On the other hand, I think that such device, in medias res will surely work on the big screen.

***Alert: Tread carefully here for spoilers***

What I love about the characters here are their optimism. I appreciate that they're not the type who dwell on the pointing fingers. You see, lots of us wallow on putting the blame on someone. Say, on Anthony's part, he was always hurrying, forgetting one of the most fundamental things— bringing the iron chain before starting an operation. Lucy on her part was reckless, just got something inside her breast pocket and threw whatever her hand has found, without thinking whatever it was. She could have paused there for a sec when she had that jar and thought of opening the lid, grabbed a handful of Greek fire and threw it towards the ghost. On the other hand, that was really needed, acting quick. She didn't even know that Anthony has already been ghost-touched. If she didn't do the reckless thing that she had done, much damages would have been inflicted to Anthony. And yes, I would blame it all to Anthony's heedless rush.

Well the thing is, the author has captured how teenagers are like (I think I was worse than them in my time). The only amazing thing is that they seem to be really mature for a teenager for they tackle on the solution instead of going around blaming. Finishing the book, I understand that that conflict was made to give way to certain events that would either complicate or solve the case.

One of the few devices that the author used that really worked in this genre: interruption. I love the mystery created when one talks about something and is being interrupted by someone or by something else (think of the manga Another). It keeps you bookmarking those parts. Things to look forward for: Harry Crisp's story as broken by George offering dinner, and Anthony Lockwood's past or the death of his parents (maybe on the next book or the book after that).

The book has varying paces. Fast, then slow, and a long fast one again. Things calmed down exactly halfway through the book. Then suddenly, there's a development to the Annie Ward case, the case taken at the start of the story and finally, a mention of The Screaming Staircase, the very title of this book. That's when I was on my toes. Every word is vital. I got a feeling that whatever's the congregation of Visitors in that Staircase has something to do with the secret society of socialites related to Annie Ward.

When the characters were struggling at the Red Room, I tried to keep myself nerveless... as hard as I could. I started reading the book just before noon and by then, it was about shortly after midnight. The trivial bickerings in the middle of it all calmed me down a bit, it sort of break my stupor. I love watching movies and reading ebooks without the lights on so this book really made me feel all the creeps. I'm no longer afraid in my age but it did keep me on the edge.

Anthony Lockwood: The thing is, we girls (of various ages) easily appreciate movies and books when there's a connotation of romance. Even though the movie or book we're reading isn't a romantic one, we will still be looking for that element of romance. And the same goes for animation, comics and tv series. Well, for girls out there, don't fret. There's a potential of romance between Lucy and Anthony.

I want to talk about Anthony Lockwood. To summarize, Lockwood has zest and confidence, commanding presence and authoritative air, firm control and strength of nerve. When things seem out of control for Lucy, when she's almost in a ghost-lock (you know that thing when Kayako of The Grudge plague a person and that person seem to just freeze, can't even scream or move?), Anthony is there to bring her senses back and save her. Sometimes he's careless but he's a heeding and responsible leader. As how Lucy puts it,
Lockwood, I already liked. He seemed a world away from the remote and treacherous Agent Jacobs; his zest and personal commitment were clear. Here was someone I felt I could follow; someone perhaps to trust.

Lookwood is also very clever and resourceful. When being told be the client not to bring combustible weapons (vital ones) to his mansion, he brought some and in order not to be found by being frisked, he pretended to be badly needing CR and hid the weapons there that they were able to use later to protect themselves.

A musing: I love the idea of a Pokemon-like fight when you can keep a Visitor in a metal case. When fighting someone, you could just open your case and throw it to your opponent.

A few things to remember as an agent (by Lucy Carlyle):
When entering a house occupied by a Visitor, it’s always best to get in quick. That’s one of the first rules you learn.

You see, a second rule you learn is this: electricity interferes. It dulls the senses and makes you weak and stupid. It’s much better to watch and listen in the dark. It’s good to have that fear.
Having a watch with a luminous dial is my third recommended rule. It’s best if it can also withstand sudden drops in temperature and strong ectoplasmic shock.

It’s a good rule to keep a well-lit place to retreat to if the need arises, and having different forms of light is always advisable, in case the Visitor has the ability to disrupt them.

When you go out hunting wicked spirits, it’s the simple things that matter most. Tea bags, brown and fresh and plenty of them may not save your life like a sword-tip or an iron circle can but they do provide something just as vital. They help to keep you sane. Sitting in a haunted house, waiting in the dark, if you’re not careful, you start to see or hear things that are the products of your mind. In short, you need distractions.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, great review! I want to read this book now too.
    I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award, if you feel like it... you just have to come by my blog and have a look at the questions, then pass it around to other bloggers. Have a nice day!

    Johanna @ Challenging Reads


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