April is just about over, which means it’s time for my final post in the #ReadingMyLibrary blogging challenge. For details about the challenge, you can check out my challenge sign up post.
In my previous #ReadingMyLibrary post, I reviewed the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series, The Screaming Staircase. Today I’ll be reviewing The Whispering Skull, the second Lockwood book.
Lockwood & Co #2: The Whispering Skull
SUMMARY (from Good Reads)
In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.
Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.
Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.
- You may recall that when I read the first Lockwood book, I was dubious that the series truly deserved to be billed as “scary.” Despite a spooky premise, the first book read more like paranormal action than a true ghost story. I’m glad to say The Whispering Skull is much scarier than its predecessor. I still wasn’t truly frightened, but I could see readers in the target age range (middle grade to early high school) being scared by it. This is primarily because the premise of Whispering Skull is much darker than that of Screaming Staircase. Last time, the team was in a haunted house with an evil man and a ghost girl. This time around, the team is hunting a deadly, soul-sucking ghost mirror and the ghost of a murderous cult leader. Pretty macabre stuff for a trio of teens. If we see more of the same in future Lockwood books, then I think it’s definitely fair to call it a scary series.
- As a huge historical fiction fan, I was thoroughly pleased that Stroud featured ghosts from various time periods. He took great care to make them historically accurate and interesting, even if they were only in the story for a few minutes. Instead of confining himself to vague white forms that moan indistinctly, Stroud acknowledges and embraces the fact that the ghosts in his world span human history.
- Stroud continues to provide vivid descriptions and witty banter, while taking time to delve a little deeper into the protagonists’ personalities and relationships. I really appreciated this. The strong writing was what kept me reading page-to-page, but the depth of the characters and steady expansion of their world made me eager to know what would be in store five or ten chapters down the road. The mark of a truly good book!
- At first, I wasn’t quite sure whether the main plot line was supposed to revolve around the skull or Bickerstaff. The summary points to Bickerstaff, but the skull is featured heavily in the beginning (and it’s the title of the book). Eventually, they come together to form one plot, but until that point I felt like the two were competing for dominance. Maybe if Stroud had chosen a different title, I would have immediately identified the skull as a subplot.
- Despite being much darker, The Whispering Skull didn’t give me the same I HAVE TO READ THIS ALL RIGHT NOW feeling that The Screaming Staircase did. I read the first book in only a few days, but it took me more than a week to finish Whispering Skull. To be fair, I’ve been really busy. I think my confusion about the main plot line made it hard for me to reach the same level of emotional investment I had with the first book.
- In my review of the first book, I complained that the team member’s roles weren’t clearly defined in the beginning (George specifically). In Whispering Skull, we get to see the team working together from the very beginning. This is great, but it’s one book too late. I actually feel like the opening scenes in the two books should have been swapped. Although they were both well written, the opening scene in the second book does a much better job of communicating who does what in the agency, which would have been good information to have when meeting the characters in the first book.
I was surprised by The Whispering Skull‘s sudden plunge into dark themes, but I thoroughly enjoyed how the author approached it. The ghostly meetings and dialogue between characters were a joy to read, as always. Despite having a few organizational flaws, this book is a strong sequel to The Screaming Staircase and has me eagerly awaiting the publication of Lockwood & Co. #3: The Hollow Boy.
What deliciously dark books have you read lately?