Hannah Greendale's Reviews > The Screaming Staircase

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
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bookshelves: fantasy, horror, middle-grade, mystery, paranormal

Lucy Carlyle has two special Talents: she can hear the voices of the dead and she can experience memories of the dead by touching belongings they once owned. Normally she puts her Talent to use for an organization that investigates paranormal phenomena, but when a tragic incident leaves her jobless, she wanders into the office of Lockwood & Co. hoping to find work. There she teams up with Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins to tackle solving the mystery behind one of the most notoriously haunted houses in London.

With much talk of death, murder, and maligned spirits, The Screaming Staircase is worthy of its classification as a middle grade horror novel. Creepy events often arrive with an unnerving suddenness and evoke a satisfying sense of being spooked. Stroud brings numerous eerie settings to life with descriptions of dark hallways, whispered voices, slamming doors, and blood dripping from walls.

In fact, it wasn't at all an ugly hallway; in bright sunlight it might have looked quite pleasant. But not so much now, with the last light from the door panes stretching out like skewed coffins on the floor in front of us; and with our shadows neatly framed inside them; and with the manner of old Mr. Hope's death in this very place hanging heavy on our minds.

Ever since the Problem - an event that happened decades ago - supernatural beings have wandered the earth, roused by their own accord whenever night falls and reaching the apex of their power at midnight. Stroud's version of a ghost-riddled London is fleshed out and richly imagined with civilians wearing protective charms and herbs wherever they go, an extensive list of paranormal entities on the loose, and commonly known rules for tackling a varied array of supernatural phenomena.

When entering a house occupied by a Visitor, it's always best to get in quick. That's one of the first rules you learn. Never hesitate, never linger on the threshold.

And there was a switch on the wall, right there. But we didn't attempt to use it. You see, a second rule you learn is this: electricity interferes. It dulls the senses and makes you weak and stupid. It's much better to watch and listen in the dark.

Unfortunately, Lucy Carlyle makes for a dull narrator. She has no sparkle. Nothing that makes her special or memorable. She is regularly overshadowed by her gallant associate, Anthony Lockwood. Even dumpy George Cubbins, a gross boy who's the butt of every joke, makes a more amusing addition to the story.

Further, The Screaming Staircase is bloated with exposition. At almost four hundred pages, the book tends to drag at times. To be fair, this is the first book in a series, so hopefully the books that follow will require less time to establish backstory. Where the surplus of exposition is occasionally wearisome, the author makes up for it with his carefully crafted sentences:

Burning papers, ignited by the first surge from the canister, were plucked aloft, blown directly at my face. I batted them away, watched them whirl off, willed by something unseen. They blew in squalls across the room, landed on books and shelves, on desk and curtains, on curls of wallpaper, on bone-dry files and letters, on dusty cushions on the chair . . .
Like stars at dusk, hundreds of little fires winked into being, one after another, high, low, and all around.


Finally, a glossary at the back of the book introduces young readers to related terms like ectoplasm, death-glow, ghost-lock, and more.

Though it's overstuffed with exposition and reaches a predicable conclusion, The Screaming Staircase is a promising start to a new series.
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Reading Progress

February 10, 2017 – Started Reading
February 10, 2017 – Shelved
February 12, 2017 – Finished Reading
February 14, 2017 – Shelved as: fantasy
February 14, 2017 – Shelved as: horror
February 14, 2017 – Shelved as: mystery
February 14, 2017 – Shelved as: middle-grade
February 14, 2017 – Shelved as: paranormal

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore How are you liking this? I enjoyed his Bartimeaus books very much but haven't read these.


Hannah Greendale @Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore: I adore the Bartimaeus books, especially the first one. This book took me a while to get into; it wasn't until the end of chapter two that my interest was really piqued. I'm nearly a quarter of the way through it now and am enjoying it, though not as much as the Bartimaeus books - not yet, anyway.


❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀ I enjoyed this series! When I was child I loved the Lewis Barnavelt books by John Bellairs. The illustrations were done by Edward Gorey and they are perfect. The Lockwood books took me back them, although these are written, I think, for older children. I hope Stroud has plans for more.


Hannah Greendale @Rory: I learned about Edward Gorey last year and love his art style. I'm going to have to look up these Lewis Barnavelt books you mentioned. As for this Lockwood & Co. series, the fifth book is scheduled to come out in September of this year. Not sure if more books will be coming after that . . .


message 5: by Jaksen (new)

Jaksen You all need to visit Mr. Gorey's house on Cape Cod. They have little cloth dolls all over which illustrate the children in his book, The Gashleycrumb Tinies, starting with: A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. And yep, there's the Amy doll on the stairs to the attic. Creepy much, but also funny. :D


message 6: by Diane (new)

Diane good review!!


Hannah Greendale @Jaksen: Ooooh, that sounds awesome!


Hannah Greendale @Diana: Thank you. :)


❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀ @Jaksen I would love to see the Gashleycrumb dolls! :-D


Lilyn G. | Sci-Fi & Scary Only 3 stars? *falls over, clasps chest dramatically*


Brenda Each of the Lockwood & Co. books keep getting better and better, can't wait for The Empty Grave.


Hannah Greendale @Lilyn G.: Given your enthusiasm for this book, I highly recommend The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. That book earned a five star review from me, and I still rank it among my top favorite books. I suspect you would really enjoy it. :D


Hannah Greendale @Brenda: I'm definitely going to read the next book in the series (though not right away). I think Stroud nailed the creepiness factor, and I'm keen to experience more of it.


message 14: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Hope the next one in the series is closer to a 5 star! Nice review. :)


Hannah Greendale @Melissa: Fingers crossed! :)


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