Yes! It is my first book review in a while!
Lucy Carlyle is the newest Agent to join the most ramshackle psychical agency in London. Charged with dealing with the Problem that has plagued an alternative Britain for the past 50 years, she finds herself working with the mysterious Anthony Lockwood and the annoying, rotund George Cubbins to uncover the answer to a decades old murder case and a mysterious screaming staircase in the most haunted house in Britain! Two big cases for an agency that struggles with the most routine of cases…
This book is a fresh take on the urban fantasy genre for children. Whilst still centred on London, the reader is drawn in through the first person narration of Lucy Carlyle to learn about this alternative universe (AU) Britain where ghost hauntings have been increasing for 50 years and children with special Talents (Listening, Sight and Touch) join and train with psychical agencies to vanquish hauntings for people. The novel is split into four parts and does rely on the reader being willing to flip back and forth from the story, to the glossary at the end and back again or having at least a common knowledge base to understand the book. There are two distinct story lines in the book that are satisfactory tied up at the end.
Stroud also seems to be trying to hook readers into the series for the long haul. This book, the first of a series, has some small sub plots that Stroud appears to be setting up ready to be dealt with over the course of a series, particularly revolving around Lockwood and his past. The ending of the book also tries to hook the reader in with a new plot line linking directly to some character develops with Lucy to make sure they read the next book to find out more. This has certainly worked as I have already started looking to getting the next book when I can.
Unfortunately, I am not sure introducing new plot points at the end was a good idea. I will grant Stroud is an established author (he has already found success with the Bartimaeus series) so can probably get away with breaking the rule that says don’t introduce new plots or characters towards the end of the story but I feel that in this instance, it was completely unnecessary and would probably have been better placed nearer the start when set up with Lockwood started.
I have previous mentioned that the book requires a reader willing to either be flipping back and forth between the story and the glossary or have a common knowledge base on ghost hunting and this is something else I have a problem with. It is very hard to initially get into the book because the reader is constantly having to break the suspension of disbelief to look up terms. This could lead to readers potentially abandoning the book before getting to part two of the book where background information, about Lucy, the AU Britain and many other things are explained. This makes the story very badly organised in my view and possibly broken back. The first part is probably Stroud’s attempt to draw the reader in right from the start but I don’t believe it has worked as well as maybe he wanted.
This makes my concerns about having another series of Urban Fantasy books set in London rather redundant.
The Screaming Staircase is a wonderful start to a new series and is very different from other books on the market for both children’s and adults. It draws on the traditions of the genre whilst adding a new twist and encouraging readers to keep reading. I have no doubt that Stroud will continue to deliver interesting novels, develop the characters as they get older and, hopefully, will develop the world it is set in. A series to watch I think.