The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

whisperingLast year brought us Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase, which was a 99.9% enjoyable book for me, and one that left me wanting the sequel now.

The sequel has now arrived and I’m happy to report that I found it as engaging and entirely readable as the first book. Lockwood, George, and Lucy find themselves going head to head with their archrivals, the Fittes Agency, and attempting to battle the ghost of a Victorian doctor and possible black magician. Plus, there is a skull in a jar whose whispers only Lucy can hear.

At first the different strands of the plot seem a bit disparate. There’s the Source that they have to deal with, the bet with the Fittes agents, the skull and its suggestive comments, and Lockwood’s secrets which he keeps even from George and Lucy. But by the middle of the book, Stroud pulls them together in a fairly masterful (if slightly coincidental) way.

For me, Lucy’s voice and the interaction between the three main characters is a large part of the appeal. Lucy is loyal, sarcastic, a bit self-centered (or at least, unable to see people entirely clearly). I had some issues with the way George was described in the first book, and while that didn’t exactly go away, I can see the dynamic becoming more complicated in ways that make me feel like Stroud may ultimately do some interesting things with the questions of heroes and so on.

I also noticed that, like E.K. Johnston’s Story of Owen, the narrator is a young girl who is telling a story she is involved in but which she normally wouldn’t be considered the protagonist of. In most stories of this type, Lockwood would be firmly at the center of the narrative. Instead, he remains a bit of an enigma, his charisma described by the other characters but never entirely felt. For the most part, this works for me, because Lucy herself is quite delightful and doesn’t come across as simply a storytelling device. But I did find myself a bit hung up on why Lockwood wouldn’t tell George and Lucy anything.

And it’s also true that, because of the way the world of this book works, there’s an interesting sense of time passing, of growing inevitably older and losing something as well as gaining it, which is fairly striking. Lockwood & Co are growing up and as they grow they will lose their powers. I wonder if this is partly what makes it specifically a middle grade book: poised at the tipping point between childhood and young adulthood, when you want the next thing but fear losing what you already have.

Of course, Stroud has decided to leave us with a Big Revelation which makes me wish it was next year already. However, the main strands of the narrative are nicely tied up, with a few lingering questions to tease us all along.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2014, Disney Hyperion; upper middle grade/younger YA

I read this book for the 2014 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

(True fact: I almost said this book was written by Jonathan Strange, not Jonathan Stroud. How surprised Strange would be!)

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5 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

5 responses to “The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

  1. I’m so glad it’s good! It’s just today come in for me at the library.

  2. “I wonder if this is partly what makes it specifically a middle grade book: poised at the tipping point between childhood and young adulthood, when you want the next thing but fear losing what you already have.”

    Oh, nice point. I like this.

    I felt that Lockwood was a little more vulnerable and flawed in this one which I liked, but he is still an enigma. I really can’t wait until the next book. Given the revelation at the end, I’m interested to see what more we will discover.

    • Maureen Eichner

      Yeah, I started to say that this was an unusual thing for mg, and then I realized that it’s actually the opposite.

      I agree about Lockwood; I can’t wait to find out what’s going on.

  3. Pingback: October 2014 round-up | By Singing Light

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