London has a Problem. Hauntings, once merely the subject of superstition, have now become common place and undeniable. In just a few decades, ghost sightings, and even fatal ghost-touchings, in Britain have reached epidemic proportions but here’s the catch: only children and teens can see (or hear, or feel) the ghosts. In the Lockwood & Co. series, Jonathan Stroud–King of Snark, and author of the best-selling Bartimaeus series–builds a new world of magic and real life intertwining. Adults protect themselves with silver, iron, salt, and lavender as best they can and don’t go out after curfew, while kids with psychic talents train to become ghost hunters known as agents. Most agencies are run by adults and employ adult supervisors but Anthony Lockwood prefers to do things his own way. Enter Lockwood & Co., the up-and-coming self-run team of youngsters ready to kick some spectral butt.
This series straddles the boundary of YA and middle grade. The characters are teenagers but the plot complexity, language, and content are suitable and engaging for both younger and older audiences. I had received the second book, The Whispering Skull, at BEA a couple years ago but didn’t get around to reading it until after I found the first book, The Screaming Staircase, on audiobook last month. I then proceeded to devour them both in a matter of weeks.
The first book tells of the Lockwood and Co. agency establishing themselves through a high-profile and highly dangerous case at the estate of London’s most successful iron mogul. It contains a little less snark than I was expecting from Stroud although some is still present issuing from the mouth of George Cubbins, the dumpy, disheveled scholar of the group. And the mysterious and ever self-composed leader Anthony Lockwood is sarcastic from time to time too, in his own distinguished way. But the protagonist Lucy Carlyle, though more plucky than snarky, is the character who really shines. Not only does her Talent of listening and touch far exceed the talents of her teammates, but she also maintains that delicate balance of vulnerability and strength that Stroud has impressed me with in his female characters since Ring of Solomon. She even has moments of feminist indignation when others assume her to be the weakest and most sensitive on the team just because she is a girl (though in terms of psychic ability, she may really be the most sensitive agent in generations). There’s some romantic tension between Lucy and Lockwood that I totally ship but I like the fact that romance has not been a plot priority, at least in the first two books.
Book 2 introduces a totally Bartimaeus-esque character (for those of you familiar with Stroud’s other series): a talking skull that Cubbins keeps in a jar. Like Bartimaeus, the skull provides wry commentary laced with actual helpful information despite the fact that ghosts and agents are enemies on principal. Lucy is the only one who can hear the skull, but George and Lockwood are overjoyed rather than jealous that a member of their team was the ability to communicate with a rare Type 3 ghost (types 1 and 2 are incapable of real conversation). In this installment, Lucy explores her psychic Talent with the skull, while Lockwood pitches his team against their snooty and well-dressed rivals from the prestigious Fittes Agency in a race to find a dangerous magical mirror.
The Screaming Staircase was published by Disney•Hyperion in 2013, and Stroud has been releasing each successive novel every September since then. In fact, we can expect Book 4, The Creeping Shadow, this upcoming September. Stroud also put forth an ebook short story denoted as #1.5 in the series, The Dagger in the Desk, taking place between the first and second books.
Read them already? Let us know what you thought of them in the comments!