Originally published at Winged Reviews
In trying to articulate my excitement for wonder that is The Screaming Staircase, I was going to write my shortest ever review and leave it at that, because it summarises the book so well: freaking brilliant. (Well, freaky and brilliant, really).
Then I thought it might help to elaborate. My expectations were set extremely high when I first heard about this book at the Random House Children’s Publishers blogger brunch. It ticked all the right boxes for me—great author, alternative London setting, a cavalier hero, smart female narrator. Plus, actually having Jonathan Stroud there demonstrating how to fight ghosts with a rapier, salt, chains and a teapot was pretty perfect.
In this version of England, there is a Problem—ghosts are everywhere and their touch can kill. You can feel them, but you eventually can’t see them. As people grow older, their ability to see ghosts fades away. Enter Lockwood & Co., a small agency founded by teenager Anthony Lockwood to help those with a Visitor problem. Unlike the big corporations with legacy adults running the show, Lockwood & Co. is solely run by our three young protagonists.
Our narrator is Lucy Carlyle, a trainee who possesses superior ghost ‘empathy’. She moved down to London due to an incident where she used to work and after countless applications (at other firms), ends up as the newest employee of Lockwood & Co. As luck would have it, one Lucy and Lockwood’s cases…goes up in smoke, which leads to the little company owing a lot of money and having to risk all by taking on a huge case potentially out of their depths.
This book had some seriously chilling moments. I brought this to read on my honeymoon and every time a wave crashed, I almost threw the book up in the air and hid under the covers. These are not friendly ghosts Lockwood & Co. deal with—they are vengeful, dark spirits that cause extreme terror and harm. When our heroes eventually face the titular screaming staircase, I was truly frightened, not to mention a certain encounter with a floating head (yes, I am a scaredy cat, but just wait until you read it).
That said, the book’s tone is generally light (yes, it’s light and scary, I don’t know how Stroud manages this brilliance). The banter between Lockwood, Lucy and the third member of the trio, the cynical researcher George Cubbins is extremely fun to read, especially as they live together and have to get used to each other’s odd habits. I love the humorous understatements in the face of true danger, something I’ve come to know and love from Stroud’s writing. Of course, there are the required tea and biscuit breaks, which adds to the British charm.
My only gripe about reading this book early is that I now have to wait even longer for the sequel. I excited to see the world-building get even deeper, learn more about Lucy’s abilities and discover the cause of the true mystery behind the Problem. Recommended for absolutely everyone, kids and adults alike will be enthralled by it.