Monday 1 September 2014

Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co 2)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Doubleday Childrens
Release date: 25th September 2014

Summary: Life is never exactly peaceful for Lockwood & Co. Lucy and George are trying to solve the mystery of the talking skull trapped in their ghost jar, while Lockwood is desperate for an exciting new case.
Things seem to be looking up when the team is called to Kensal Green Cemetery to investigate the grave of a sinister Victorian doctor. Strange apparitions have been seen there, and the site must be made safe. As usual, Lockwood is confident; as usual, everything goes wrong - a terrible phantom is unleashed, and a dangerous object is stolen from the coffin.
Lockwood & Co must recover the relic before its power is unleashed, but it's a race against time. Their obnoxious rivals from the Fittes agency are also on the hunt. And if that's not bad enough, the skull in the ghost-jar is stirring again.

: Lockwood & Co is back with another cracking case (and new cover - but that's a different matter altogether) and I would like to start this review with an open letter of application to the author:

Dear Mr Stroud 
Please accept this as my formal application (and plea I'll go as far as to say) to join the esteemed Lockwood & Co!!!!  I feel I have been there at key moments in the teams history, I now know a fair bit about Ghosts now, my senses are heightening as I type, and as you may remember from our YALC video, I have suit and sword already! It was meant to be! I'm available for interview at Lockwood's earliest convenience
Yours sincerely

Now back to the matter at hand! The Book! Of course....

I'd initially had reservations with the start of this series because I'd loved the Bartimaeus cycle...but then I ended up loving The Screaming Staircase and book two has only taken this to the next level, hence the impromptu job application above (no shame). It is a well developed and engaging series that both fans and newcomers can enjoy.

Ghosts as a subject are making somewhat of a comeback recently, so I think its great that the paranormal is front and foremost here. The structure of the magical (or here paranormal) construct is what really makes a book for me and here it is well crafted, thought out and not overly complicated so that it simply works. I fully expect to see a Ghost hunting manual out in the near future (hint hint). There is a also Victorian quality to proceedings that helps my mind create a grimy (in a good way if such things exist) recreation of London, where all shady things of this manner can happen and it is the perfect place for Ghosts to reside. And the graveyard (complete with catacombs) sets things off nicely!

Stroud's characterisation here is fantastic, because every character stands out individually, and as I read, I have strong images of how I see each character, from the way they look to the way they sound and act. And all this is skilfully done with little description but lots of personality. We saw a different side to Lockwood, Lucy and George here, with new vulnerability to their characters, especially the darker elements of Lockwood.  There were also some great additions here, in Flo (who I hope we see more of), Penelope Fitties (who's character has laid some nice groundwork for book 3) and last but not least the skull! O if only I had a talking skull!  They helped to build the world so that it was real to me as if I could go off and find the Fitties agency or see Flo wondering along the shore lines when I'm on the Southbank. The skull especially added a comedic flare to the narrative that I've become to associate with Stroud.

The first person narrative, which at times feels third person ( and yes in one case actually is third person) was great as it put you in the centre of the action, yet with a rounded perspective, keeping strong pace so you power along with Lucy, where I found I was flying through the book...yet at the same time not wanting it to end. It also put you in a position to have to guess/infer/question (and any other suchlike word you can thing of) as to the thoughts and actions of the other characters, and this again helps you to build the characters yourself, so they become part of your world and not just what written on the page. I think this element of guess is important, and here especially I've been guessing for two books whats behind the door and then BAM on the last page you get information, and I "No Way"'d! Now I'm in anticipation for the next book! (*shakes fist*)

This was a cracking read, that packed a punch to the very last word and I eagerly look forward to tacking future cases with Lockwood and Co.



Jesse Owen said...

Ooh! I really want to read this - I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I love your application to join the Lockwood team! :)

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