The Lockwood & Co series of ghost fantasies aren’t for everyone. They’re probably too occult-related for some readers, even though the the protagonists—Lockwood, Lucy, and George—are the good guys as they fight against The Problem of evil ghostly manifestations that have become a common peril in this alternate history future. Also, I caught an instance or two of profanity. And, finally, the humor is biting and sarcastic, not everyone’s cuppa.
But if you can get past or even appreciate those aspects of the novel, The Whispering Skull might be even better than the first book in the series, The Screaming Staircase, winner of last year’s middle grade speculative fiction Cybils award. In episode two of our story, Lucy, George, and Lockwood are in a competition with the Fittes crew to find a very dangerous mirror relic and lay its ghosts to rest.
The eponymous skull is a rather dangerous relic itself in this version of a London in which children use iron chains, silver seals, and salt-bombs to fight off malevolent spirits bent on righting old wrongs and harming the still-living. Lucy, the narrator of the story, has a special connection with the skull, a face in a ghost-jar that sometimes materializes with “expressions of horror and disgust” and even talks to Lucy in a sort of telepathic and sarcastic manner that only she can hear. The skull is just as malevolent and self-centered as all of the other ghosts and spirits that are infesting the country, but it does seem to have a soft spot for Lucy. Will that connection and that special sensitivity be the downfall of Lockwood and Co?
This second book in particular would make a lovely Princess Bride-type movie with lots of witty, sardonic dialog and characters who see each other’s faults but support each other to the death. I’ve never been much on horror films or ghost stories, but if it were done right, I might make an exception for a movie version of this book. There were several scenes in which I wanted to shake (or slap) the characters and tell them that, of course, they shouldn’t let curiosity betray them into doing x or y really dangerous, stupid thing. But that’s par for a ghost horror story, isn’t it? Cue scary music. This decision will not end well. Don’t open that door!
So I recommend this book and the first one in the series for those of us who are not at all interested in the occult as such, but who enjoy a scary, clever story with lots of action, lots of quick-witted humor, and a fair amount of heart. Suave Anthony Lockwood, faithful Lucy Carlyle, and bumbling George Cubbins make a fine team of intrepid ghostbusters, and the ending promises more Lockwood and Co adventures to come.
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.