In the spirit of Halloween, I’m dedicating this post to my favorite middle-grade series of recent years, since it features plenty of spooks, specters, and things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co., which takes place in a haunted alternate version of London. Since Talented youngsters are the only ones who can actually see ghosts (sorry, adults, the best you can hope for is to lock yourself in and try to stay safe after dark), it falls to kid agents to track down unruly spirits and put them to rest for good.
It’s a rich and complicated world that Stroud has created, full of ghost-hunting techniques and devices, even rivalries between competing agencies. It’s definitely a series with solid plot and premise, but for me, what really makes the story are the characters.
We see events unfold through the eyes of the plucky Lucy Carlyle, who is a fantastic narrator—bold, sarcastic, more than a little on the cynical side. But underneath her tough exterior, there is a undercurrent of vulnerability that makes her endearingly human. Lucy also has an extremely rare Talent—the ability to actually talk to ghosts. Most agents can only see and/or hear spirits, so Lucy is quite a special agent, indeed. (Even if she doesn’t always like what the spirits have to say.) Researcher George is the brains behind the operation—and a constant source of wonderfully biting dialogue. Then there’s Anthony Lockwood himself—the mysterious leader of the team, whose not above keeping secrets, like maybe a few ghosts of his own.
Stroud is an absolute master of character development. From a writer’s perspective, this is a great series to read just to see a strong example of three-dimensional characters that mature and grow as the storyline progresses. I enjoy that Stroud doesn’t always do the expected with his characters, but through their trials and tribulations, their interactions and conflicts, they always come out the other side changed somehow, usually for the better. It isn’t always a smooth transition, but somehow they always seem to get there in the end. And I love that this is a series where even the antagonists are not above a little character growth, as well.
Like Harry Potter, Lockwood & Co. is also just so charmingly British, with plenty of rain, tea, and biscuits to go along with all the ghost hunting. Also like Harry Potter, it’s one of the few series that has made me laugh out loud. Some of Stroud’s characters simply thrive on witty comments and one-liners.
There’s been rumblings about a movie version of the Screaming Staircase, the first book in the series, being in development. And I, for one, would love to see Lockwood & Co. come to the big screen. But in the meantime, if you haven’t delved into this fantastic series yet, I’d highly recommend it. Lockwood & Co. is the perfect Halloween read!